Negro Bar, a California lakeside recreation spot, may get a new name

Culminating four years of public outreach, state officials on Friday will again consider a name change for Negro Bar, a historic day-use area of Folsom Lake State Recreation Area.

The name of the area on the southern bank of the American River has drawn controversy for years, eliciting online petitions, scathing social media comments and calls for political action.

The California State Park and Recreation Commission is holding its Friday public meeting to consider a staff recommendation in favor of the name change and public process to find a new name, as well as a larger, historical research project to “develop a more robust, engaged, and inclusive interpretation and education program” at the recreation area.

“Over the years, an array of stakeholders has discussed this specific facility name and suggested to both change and/or retain the name,” according to the meeting agenda from the commission’s upcoming quarterly meeting. “Those in support of change, naming ‘Negro’ as a dated, derogatory term, and others in opposition, concerned with the potential loss of recognition the name provides to African American presence and participation in the California Gold Rush in this area.”

The day-use area contains three group campsites, a network of trails and facilities including a paddle sports concession, and a training center for junior lifeguards.

The name, which appears on maps and marketing materials for the predominantly white Folsom neighborhood, was chosen to commemorate the Black gold miners of the 1849 California Gold Rush. It first appeared in a newspaper article in 1850, with a nearby townsite called “Negro Bar” counting about 600 residents the same year, according to the U.S. census. That site is now the location of the city’s solid waste plant.

But the name was alternately referred to by a racist term for decades, including in The Chronicle and other newspapers, before the federal government in 1960 issued a requirement for the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to change all uses of the offensive term to “Negro” on federal maps.

An online petition started in 2018 by Phaedra Jones, an Uber Eats driver from Stockton, urging the name change for Negro Bar has secured about 68,000 signatures to date.

State officials are again considering a name change for Negro Bar, a historic area of Folsom Lake State Recreation Area.

California Department of Parks and Recreation

“When I saw that sign, I immediately felt uncomfortable, my stomach started hurting, I rolled up my windows and made sure I looked in my mirrors every 10 seconds,” said Jones, who first encountered the name while on a delivery. “I couldn’t wait to find the nearest freeway out of that town.”

Since then, parks officials say they have conducted “numerous outreach efforts,” listening sessions and meetings aimed at settling the name issue, including gathering potential new name suggestions, and “addressing concerns about negatively impacting recognition of African American history at the site.”

State parks officials accelerated renaming efforts in 2020 amid the fervor of the Black Lives Matter movement. Friday’s meeting, which is scheduled to take place at the Four Points by Sheraton at the Sacramento International Airport, is open via website link to members of the public who preregister.

If the name change is approved, the first step would be for Alexandra Stehl, the deputy director for strategic planning and recreational services for state parks, to temporarily change the name to Black Miners Bar Day-Use Area. That would be followed by a research and community outreach campaign “to identify the most appropriate, accurate and applicable long-term name for this facility.”

A day after the state commission meeting, a Saturday Juneteenth celebration at Negro Bar will feature vendors, live music and educational sessions.

Aidin Vaziri (he/him) is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected]