February 10, 2021
On behalf of the Racial Equity Anchor Collaborative—the foremost diverse coalition of national racial justice and civil rights organizations representing and serving more than 53 million people in the US—we write to urge, in the strongest possible terms, that you immediately remove the graphic illustrations of the noose, hanging tree, the term “hang town,” and any related symbols and phrases from your seal, logo, emblems, stationery, and all other official materials.
We understand that this request was first brought to the City’s attention by Civil Rights Now, a group of local civil rights advocates last June. In August, UnidosUS, a member of this Collaborative, formally reiterated the request, urging you to “immediately adopt a more inclusive emblem worthy of all its people.” We understand that you have yet to act on these requests.
Despite distinct histories, our communities have all been the targets of extensive race-based violence. The wholesale slaughter of millions of indigenous people in North America has been exhaustively documented. The NAACP, another member of this Collaborative, has described the lynchings of thousands of African Americans, mainly in the deep South, from the end of the Civil War until the civil rights era. Recent scholarship has uncovered the lynchings of thousands of people of Mexican descent, including many associated with the Gold Rush, in and around Placerville. Similarly, Asian Americans experienced extensive racialized violence in California, including the largest mass lynching in history. We are offended that, at this moment in time, you continue to celebrate this history.
Perhaps more than any other single graphic image, the noose is widely recognized as a hate symbol by multiple authorities on the subject including the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. But this isn’t simply a symbolic issue, although based on substantial social science research we believe symbols that venerate violence against or subjugation of people of color are inherently harmful in a multi-racial society. Beyond the symbolism, the evidence suggests that acceptance and official imprimatur of such symbols tends to legitimize and encourage hate crimes and other offensive behavior. Even before the onset of the pandemic, our communities were experiencing record levels of hate crimes, which experts note tend to be widely under-reported. As references to the purported “Chinese virus” grew, Asian Americans increasingly have been targeted by purveyors of hate.
On a broader scale, we do not believe it was coincidental that insurrectionists who sought to overturn the results of the election through violence on January 6 constructed a noose and gallows outside the Capitol that day. Nor do we believe it accidental that other symbols of hate and exclusion—Confederate battle flags, sweatshirts bearing a “Camp Auschwitz” emblem, the “VDare” banner promoting the notorious anti-immigrant white supremacist website of the same name, the Virginia Confederate battle flag later adopted by the Ku Klux Klan, and many others—were ubiquitous among insurrectionists inside the Capitol. We trust that the City would not want to be officially associated with groups that sought a violent overthrow of the government.
We acknowledge that some opponents of changing the existing logo defend it under the guise of protecting important aspects of the City’s heritage dating back to its founding during the Gold Rush era. Note that we are not asking that all references to that era be extinguished; on the contrary we believe that it is essential that images like this be preserved in history books, museums, and in other ways where their context can be fully explained. What we object to is the City placing its official “seal of approval” on images and phrases that tacitly glorify the shameful practice of lynching.
As all Americans look forward to emerging from the pandemic, an intensely divisive election cycle, and an attempted insurrection against the government, it is long past time for you to stop providing the City’s imprimatur and official sanction to Placerville’s grotesque history of mob violence and lynching. We urge the immediate removal of offensive images and phrases from your official materials. We respectfully request the courtesy of a formal reply within 30 days as we consider our next steps.
Advancement Project, National Office
Asian Pacific Islander America Health Forum
Faith In Action
Placer People of Faith Together
National Congress of American Indians
National Urban League