Letters to the Editor: The Drake Discord

Dedicated to Drake

As a dedicated researcher of the life of Sir Francis Drake and 68-year native of Marin, I have to respond to the comments made by Rama Kumar in a recent letter regarding the renaming of Sir Francis Drake Blvd. in Fairfax.

As a very young man, Drake invested in his cousin’s merchant fleet before the moving of slaves began. While learning his craft, he had no say of either the contents nor the destination of his cousin, John Hawkins, ships. Only two of his more than 40 years as a sailor were aboard Hawkins’ ships and the experience had a profound effect on the rest of his life.

Drake was not a “murderer” as Kumar claims, but became a man dedicated to end Spanish tyranny and the enslavement of Black and Indigenous people. Drake’s personal war against Spain led to his freeing of well over 1000 Spanish-held Black slaves. He was awarded the Drake Jewel by Queen Elizabeth, showing an image of a black and white man together, for his working with freed Blacks against Spanish oppression. Importantly, he is considered the first English captain to give equal pay for equal work to all black sailors aboard his ships.

 For five weeks during the summer 1579, Drake and his men (including three freed Black slaves) and the native Coast Miwok people lived together in great friendship here in Marin. Capt. Francis Drake was made an honorary chief with a headdress of sacred crows feathers. It would be fitting and appropriate that Drake and the Coast Miwok people share the name of this historic roadway. You can learn more about the life of Sir Francis Drake on my website sfdrakefoundation.org.

Duane Van Dieman, Mill Valley

Conflicted on Drake

I’m conflicted. While I do agree with Rama Kumar’s assertions that basically ‘named places reflect our values’ as a society….for me, it’s just not that simple.

I was kind of amazed that the San Francisco school district authorized the removal of a couple of well known individuals from their school names. Lincoln and Washington…I guess the older I get the more I have come to understand that people are not “all” good nor “all” bad. It’s more ‘and’ than ‘or’.

There isn’t a black and white way to paint those who are good and evil. Yes, Black and White. As in we are all human beings. Fallibility, mistakes and the prevailing cultural attitude does much to shape the actions of the people who live in the times they grow up in, and live as adults and leaders.

The wholesale labeling of anyone as ‘good or bad’ is a moral values judgment, I assert a fluid thing, ever evolving as each day passes, dynamic. And in my experience, no one, not one single person can be called out as ‘bad’. And thusly condemned as unredeemable. Disagree…? then take a quick look at our prison system and tell me how we fix that problem with the game of absolutes. 

I think it is easier and smarter to teach all who will listen that Lincoln, Washington and Drake are all the same. Just people. Who have done both good and bad in their lifetimes. Discounting one for the other…I know I wouldn’t want anyone doing that to me.

I learned in Redwood High School Boxing from Coach Troppman: Character is doing the right thing…when no one is looking. Good advice in 1980 as it is today. What about you dear reader? Where does your personal compass point? Always do the right thing? Perhaps, instead of tearing down icons of history, shall we direct our efforts to what Drake did well, and what he could have done differently. Triumph and tragedy. Acceptance is a valuable lesson for us all, it’s right here in black and white.

Joseph Brooke, Point Reyes Station

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