Two months after the death of George Floyd sparked a nationwide protest movement calling for police reforms and racial justice, the country has already seen major changes in its cultural landscape; not least of which is an ongoing re-examination of historical figures like Christopher Columbus, who are celebrated with holidays, statues and as namesakes of public places despite being involved in slave trading or other unacceptable practices.
In Marin County, that re-examination has landed on Sir Francis Drake, the English explorer who is believed to have sailed to Marin’s coast, making landfall in 1579. According to modern historians, Drake participated in some of the earliest English slaving voyages to Africa starting in 1567, and he earned a reputation for his piracy against the Spanish.
In light of this history, thousands of people have signed an online petition recently in support of renaming Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, which runs for 35-plus miles through Larkspur, Ross, San Anselmo, and Fairfax, plus the unincorporated areas of Greenbrae, Kentfield, Woodacre, San Geronimo, Forest Knolls, Lagunitas, Olema, Inverness Park and Inverness.
Now, this online petition and the grassroots movement behind it have prompted the county to host an online history presentation focused on Sir Francis Drake. The online session takes place on Wednesday, Aug 5, at 6pm.
Chantel Walker, assistant director of the Marin County Free Library, will moderate the online conversation between Dominican University professor Dr. Jordan Lieser, author and historian Dewey Livingston and Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Vice Chair Lorelle Ross.
Each panelist will present their perspectives on Drake, both from historical and current viewpoints. The public is invited to watch the presentations and to join the conversation by emailing questions beforehand or by using the Q&A feature on Zoom at the time of the event.
This upcoming history lesson follows the county’s previous online listening session on June 26, co-hosted by Marin County Supervisors Katie Rice and Dennis Rodoni. More than 300 people participated in that virtual meeting, and public feedback was both in favor of and opposed to renaming the road. The public also expressed interest in wanting to learn more about Sir Francis Drake and Marin’s indigenous inhabitants.
The online session on August 5 will be closed captioned and will offer Spanish translation and ASL/CDI interpretation. Viewers can watch the webcast live on the County’s Facebook page and the Community Media Center of Marin’s Education Channel. Comcast TV subscribers will be able to watch on Channel 30 or AT&T 99. Video of the session will also be available on the Marin County Library website.
The online petition to rename Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is still online at Change.org. On the petition site, organizers write that, “To have the main road that travels through Marin County be named after a known slave trader glorifies and honors his work. Honoring a slave trader is incredibly offensive and isn’t inclusive to Marin’s community at large. . . Now is the time to take a stand and demand that Sir Francis Drake Blvd be renamed to honor someone or something that stands for inclusivity. This is an opportunity to have Marin County come together, take a stand and unite in solidarity to stop the glorification of the white supremacist Francis Drake.”