There’s an ongoing discussion over the renaming of Fifth Street, Marysville. Local citizen and business owner John Nicoletti and others have proposed renaming the street after Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. They would like to honor King year-round, rather than just on a federal holiday. Naming a street for Dr King would also be a way to openly celebrate the area’s diversity.
Not everyone agrees. An opposing camp asks, “What did Martin Luther King have to do with Marysville? He never came here, he never lived here.” Some on this opposing side would like to remind everyone that Marysville is a Gold Rush town and that renaming Fifth Street with a Gold Rush name such as Gold Rush Boulevard or Gold Country Way would be a smart way to honor its history and also to attract needed tourism to the area.
Back in its colorful heyday, Marysville was the stopping point for the riverboats that brought prospectors to the digging grounds after gold was discovered in 1848. The population was almost 10,000 in the 1850s due to its strategic riparian location. According to Wikipedia, over 10 million dollars in gold was shipped to the US Mint from Marysville banks. Such was its prosperity that the city’s founders imagined Marysville becoming the New York City of the West Coast.
But gold, and the greed for gold, ultimately led to Marysville’s decline.
Debris loosed by hydraulic mining above the bustling town raised the riverbeds of the Feather and the Yuba and made the city vulnerable to serious flooding during winter storms and spring snowmelt. The same mining debris also choked off the Feather River and soon the riverboats could no longer reach Marysville. Other adverse environmental impacts include the ravaging of forests for timber and pollution of fertile soil by chemicals used in mining.
Gold mining also gave rise to a plethora of social ills such as price gouging, prostitution, alcoholism and opium dens. The Chinese population were driven underground and in 1886, all Marysville’s Chinese residents were driven violently out of town.
But no population suffered more than the Native Americans. While local numbers are hard to come by, it is documented that in the first two years of the California Gold Rush, 100,000 Native Americans lost their lives due to disease, mining accidents or violent clashes with settlers. Those who survived were likely to be enslaved by settlers since in spite of California’s anti-slavery laws, enslavement of Native Americans was common. A slave’s wife could be raped and his children forced to labor in the mines.
To put it bluntly, the gold era was not something to be proud of.
Rather than romanticizing the Gold Rush, should we not choose a more realistic name for Fifth Street, such as Devastation Drive, Syphilis Avenue, or Genocide Boulevard?
I propose we support John Nicoletti and his MLK idea. Streets named for Dr King are found in many cities of the US and in nearly every major metropolis. Thirteen cities have freeways named after him. But of the more than 955 MLK-themed streets, not one is in Yuba County nor in any of the neighboring counties such as Sutter, Placer or Colusa.
As Steve Miller wrote recently in an Appeal-Democrat editorial, Martin Luther King was an American hero whose voice made a difference for all races, religions and cultures. He affected all communities in all parts of the nation.
King was such an influential figure that touched all of our lives through advocacy of civil rights, compassion, fair treatment, dignity and the building of bridges between diverse cultures; you could say that in many ways he was the antithesis of what was wrong with the Gold Rush. And in that sense, he had everything to do with Marysville.