Yeah, in fact, I do think we should rename Thurston County. Or everything named after Samuel Thurston, including Thurston Avenue in Olympia.
Here’s a brief update on why Samuel Thurston is not a good namesake. He never lived here, never visited here. His only actual impact here is the worst thing about him. Yes, he did write the Black Exclusion law in the Oregon Territory (which Thurston County was part of back in the day) and he did other things. But the worst thing is that he set our course that we travelled on well after his early death.
The name itself had more to with the politics of the moment in the 1850s. Thurston was a ruthless political operator. Major pieces of our region’s racist heritage took root from the Black Exclusion Laws, including:
- Chinese police tax;
- Anti-Chinese riots in the 1880s; and
- 1920s anti-immigration laws were spawned in the Pacific Northwest
But, I don’t necessarily think we need to pick a new name. We can keep the Thurston moniker.
This was exactly what King County did when they changed who “King” honors from terrible Vice President Rufus King to really great Martin Luther King Jr. It is just a matter of finding a new Thurston.
The problem with “Thurston” that we didn’t have with “King” is that there aren’t any giants of politics and culture that we can point at immediately. There are a lot of good Thurstons, not single great one.
- Rev. David Thurston of Maine was a pre-Civil War abolitionist minister. He would travel from town to town, preaching against slavery until they kicked him out.
- Charles Brown Thurston, another New England abolitionist that served in the Civil War but also lived an otherwise quiet live.
- Rev. John L. Thurston, of Chicago. He was a fellow traveler of Martin Luther King Jr. and was president of the Chicago chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
- Baratunde Thurston is a contemporary writer who has been very significant in the anti-racist movement. I mean, if you don’t know who this person is, I suggest you give him a look today.
- And, why are we so worried about last names? Thurston Moore was lead guitar for Sonic Youth. That’s pretty awesome.
- Lastly, if you look back and deconstruct the name Thurston, you see some evidence that it is a construction of Thor (literally the god of thunder) and stone. As in Thor’s Stone. I mean Thor is pretty great, but not literally a Thurston. But, close enough to merit reference.