Alta Live: Big Changes for Sir Francis Drake

Historian Peter C. Mancall and San Anselmo councilperson Brian Colbert join Alta Live to look at the man behind a name so embedded in a community.

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Peter C. Mancall and Brian Colbert approach the controversy around whether Marin County landmarks named for Sir Francis Drake should be changed from two very different perspectives. Mancall, who wrote about Drake’s history in the region for the Spring 2022 issue of Alta, is a historian focused on the complex and difficult facts of the explorer’s role in the slave trade and land theft, whereas San Anselmo councilperson Colbert must tackle present-day reckoning and the volatile emotions of a community that is divided on how to acknowledge its own past.

Those who want to distance Marin County from Drake often cite his involvement in the slave trade, but, Mancall pointed out, his role as a colonizer deserves just as much—if not more—scrutiny. “As we not only reckon with the complexities of enslavement in the American past, I think those of us in California really need to reckon with the very complicated, tortured, painful, violent legacy of encounters between Europeans and Indigenous peoples here on the West Coast,” he said. “So yes, I think that putting Drake into that discussion…it’s very important.” But for now, there are no further plans to remove Drake’s name from his boulevard in San Anselmo. “Maybe we’ll revisit this conversation in the future,” Colbert said, “but for right now, in San Anselmo, Sir Francis Drake High is now Archie Williams High, it still stands, kids are still being educated, and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard still gets you out [to West Marin].”

Check out these links to some of the topics Colbert and Mancall brought up this week.

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