Recently I learned that a well known park in Sacramento called Goethe Park changed its name to River Bend Park. When I asked several different people who know the area what happened I was given several answers. After I did my own research I found a more shocking answer than anything anyone had told me.
But the good news is that the name change resolved the issue to the degree that local parks should not be named after people, no matter how wealthy, who were associated with genocide. When you Google search "Charles Goethe" the first link that comes up is Wikipedia, with a listing that begins "Charles Goethe (1875-1966) was an American eugenicist."
Eugenics was once a growing science in the 1920s that called for reductions in certain ethnic groups as a form of population control. Hitler used the concept during World War II and it turns out Charles Goethe was sympathetic to Hitler’s views, not to mention president of a eugenics association. Goethe was a wealthy real estate developer who helped fund Sac State. Some of the people who could not tell me why the park name changed were at first disturbed that the name changed since they always remembered the park as "Goethe Park." But once they learned the story they preferred to call it "River Bend Park."
The more natural name is fitting since it is located where the river bends and connects with William Pond Park in Carmicheal, via the Harold Richey Bridge. Both parks are extremely beautiful and are stops along the American River bike trail. Since these parks represent a transformation to a new world that is friendly to people and nature, I created a song and video for SacTV about it called "Where the River Bends" set to scenes of River Bend Park.
I can remember in 1996 when Park Plaza changed its name to Caesar Chavez Park, after the founder of the United Farm Workers union. Chavez (1927-1993) had started out as a farm worker himself before rising up in his community and began to organize farm labor in California. He rose to prominence in the 1960s as one of the state’s most respected game changers. This was another instance where a park name change had helped bury some of Sacramento’s shady past.
Plaza Park had originally been founded by John Sutter, who was known to exploit the labor of minorities, as told in the Sacramento history video hosted by Timothy Busfield, called Rising Above: Building the Indomitable City. The name Sutter has become embedded in local history, so it’s difficult to see that name going away.
SacTV.com has been turning the spotlight on natural scenery, more for how certain parks have been upgraded over time and how Sacramentans should cherish these incredibly nice parks. Chavez Park is one of Sacramento’s most active parks for delivering local culture. Beginning April 30 Chavez Park will feature Farmer’s Market through Octocter 30.
The park will also be the site for the Summer Concert Series, kicking off May 3 with Element of Soul. The concert series will continue through July 26 with the Brodys. Other acts to play throughout the series include Arden Park Roots, Mumbo Gumbo and Mother Hips. Another park to feature concerts has been Fairytale Town at William Land Park, where Jackie Greene performed a few years back. Greene played in Sacramento frequently before becoming a member of the Black Crowes late last year.
Chavez Park is also home to an historic national landmark that may become more significant through time, once America moves deeper into alternative clean energy. At the corner of the park is the California Environmental Protection Agency, a building that received the first certification in the nation for the most important honor of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. California is clearly on the cutting edge of green energy, leading the nation in environmental issues and projects.
At some point, association with environmental protection will become historic, adding to Sacramento’s profile as one of the greenest cities on earth, thanks to all the trees and parks that have been preserved. The more Sacramento promotes itself as a green and culturally friendly city, the faster its economy will likely improve. A huge segment of society wants to gravitate to a more organic evironment. So it’s refreshing that the city and county are working to make our parks reminders of the area’s natural beauty.