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Wine Country’s Racist Past

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John Grider in Sonoma’s Bear Flag Revolt. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SHARON MCGRIFF-PAYNE, JOHN GRIDER’S CENTURY.
  • Photo courtesy of Sharon McGriff-Payne, John Grider’s Century.
  • John Grider in Sonoma’s Bear Flag Revolt.

Sonoma, we need to talk.

We need to talk about the Hanging Tree.

We need to talk about the unofficial sundown law reported to have been on the city books until at least the ’60s–’70s.

We need to talk about how the history of the rape, torture and murder of children, women and men at the Barracks and Mission has been erased.

We need to talk about the statue of the murderer General Vallejo.

We need to talk about the middle school named after the rapist, torturer and murderer Jose Altimira.

We need to talk about the indigenous massacre sites that are all over this Valley, which are unnamed, uncared for and whose souls yearn to be acknowledged.

We need to talk about the lynchings that happened on our roads that have never been discussed.

We need to talk about how the great Dr. Maya Angelou once lived here but had to leave because of racism.

We need to talk about enslaved Black veteran John Grider of the Bear Flag Revolt party.

We need to talk about the unnamed, enslaved Black Americans in the Bear Flag party and their erasure from the plaza and the statue of Joseph Revere.

We need to talk about the racist Bear Flag Revolt reenactment.

We need to talk about the Chinese immigrants who built everything but were not allowed in town.

We need to talk about how the Bracero program cemented the generational conditions of socio-economic poverty and destitution that continue to haunt farmworkers in this Valley.

We need to talk about the good old boys.

We need to talk about historical landowners, their connections to white supremacy and how elected officials have been afraid to speak up.

We need to talk about the fact that the widespread use of the N-word at nearly every school is unchecked and undealt with by Sonoma Valley unified school district.

Sonoma, we need to talk.

Conversations are happening all over the country. Statues are coming down. Names are being changed. Statements of condemnation, letters of apology, resolutions, policy changes, are happening nationwide. Anyone can get on a mic and express support. Anyone can post an article or a hashtag. Anyone can put up a sign or wear a T-shirt.

Show us the tangible change.

Show us the truth and reconciliation commission. Show us the steering committee.

Show us that you can walk the talk.

D’mitra Smith is the chair of the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights, and a co-founder of Save Your VI, the Sonoma County Black Coalition and Food for All – Comida para Todos.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally posted on Facebook at 12:46pm, June 14, 2020, where it went viral days before local media outlets picked up the story.

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