Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

How should California reconcile its (very) racist history?

by Austin Cross and Libby Denkmann | Take Two®

158419 full
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29: Native Americans perform a tribal ceremony before a peace rally at the intersection of Florence and Normandie, on the 25th anniversary of the LA riots, on April 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. Florence and Normandie was the flashpoint for the riots that was sparked by the police acquittals in the Rodney King beating. (Photo by Warrick Page/Getty Images) Warrick Page/Getty Images

Two weeks ago, protesters, counter-protesters and white supremacists converged on Charlottesville, Virginia. 

What started as a rally against the removal of a Confederate statue quickly devolved into a melee. 

The violence added fuel to a national reckoning already underway — a debate over how we as a nation remember infamous men, now on the wrong side of history. 

In California, the timbre of that conversation sounds a little different, but there are some common threads: There are 109 federally recognized American Indian nations here. Several suffered at the hands of the state's earliest settlers. 

Despite this, the names of those responsible for their annihilation live on, according to Benjamin Madley. Madley is an associate professor of history at UCLA, and author of the book, "An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe."

"California's legislature convened for the first time in 1850, and one of its very first orders of business was banning all Indian people from voting, barring those with one-half of American Indian blood or more from giving evidence for or against whites in criminal cases," Madley said.

The legislation effectively stripped the state's natives of their ability to participate in the legal system.

"This amounted to a virtual grant of impunity to those that attacked them," Madley said. 

The state's early leaders didn't stop there, however. Madley said they soon legalized "white custody" of American Indians, leading many to become "unfree" laborers and indentured servants. 

"Right here in Los Angeles, one lawyer recalled that: 'Los Angeles had its slave mart and thousands of honest, useful people were absolutely destroyed in this way,' " Madley said. 

He adds that, between 1850 and 1870, L.A.'s American Indian population fell from 3,693 to just 219. That drop, he said, is due in large part to California's American Indian labor policies. 

Infamous names live on

Benjamin Madley said the names of the men responsible for the systemic oppression and killings of California's native people continue to be "hidden in plain sight."

"In 1878, Serranus Hastings donated $100,000 to found the Hastings College of Law in San Francisco," Madley said. "So California's oldest law school is named after a man who helped to lead the assembly, the financing and the state sponsorship drive for the genocidal Eel River Ranger state militia expedition of 1859, which killed perhaps 500 or more California Indians," Madley said. 

And there are more. Madley said names like Stanford (University), Fremont (City), Carson (Carson Pass), Kelsey (Kelseyville), each played a pivotal role in the eradication of California American Indians. 

Time for healing?

"Addressing the complex legacies of the genocide in California is an ongoing process," Madley said. 

Governor Jerry Brown recently acknowledged Madley's book, saying, "Madley corrects the record with his gripping story of what really happened: the actual genocide of a vibrant civilization thousands of years in the making.”

Madley said acknowledging the past, as Brown has, can set a standard for other states reviewing their histories through modern eyes. But he said that's only part of the struggle — determining the next steps will require collaboration.

"That's something that needs to happen with the joint participation of state officials, government officials at the federal level, California Indian people and other California citizens."

Press the blue play button above to hear more from the conversation. 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Enjoy Take Two®? Try KPCC’s other programs.

What's popular now on KPCC