Petitions: Rename Jack London Square after Barbara Lee, Bobby Seale

Two petitions are underway to change the name of  Jack London Square in Oakland to Barbara Lee Square, after the longtime, progressive congresswoman who serves the East Bay or Bobby Seale, chairman and co-founder of the Black Panther Party.  

Backers of both petitions say that Jack London was a "known racist" and that he wrote of exterminating the Chinese and promoted white supremacy in novels.

In “The Salt of the Earth,” London establishes that "the salt of the Earth" are English-speaking Anglo-Saxons, "a race of mastery and achievement." He goes on to say that white people murdering those of other races is purely natural selection — non-whites are destroyed once they come into contact” with superior civilization," he wrote. 

Organizers also want to remove a statue of London and replace it with a statue of Lee, who has served Oakland, Berkeley and other parts of Alameda County since 1998.

According to her biography,  Lee was born in segregated El Paso, Texas and attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School, where she was taught by the Sisters of Loretto, an order dedicated to promoting justice and peace.

Her father was a veteran of two wars and her mother broke many glass ceilings and racial barriers. After grammar school, Lee moved to California and worked with the local NAACP to integrate her high school cheerleading squad.

As a single mother raising two sons, Lee attended Mills College in Oakland and received public assistance while building a better life for her family. 

Lee famously stood alone and did not vote to go to war with Iraq in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks. 

Lee is highly in tune with her constituents and a catchphrase often heard is "Barbara Lee speaks for me."  

The author of the petition, Bedford Palmer, wrote: "Cities all over the country are removing the statues and honors for people whose work contributed to the injustices that we have been living with and fighting against. The City of Oakland claims to be a progressive city that welcomes diversity, equity, and justice. This cannot be true while it continues to honor racists." 

There is a simultaneous effort to also rename Jack London Square after Black Panther Chariman and co-founder Bobby Seale. 

The organizer of that, Jacob B. Matthis, noted Seale's activism along with Huey Newton, were inspired by Malcom X to create the Black Panther party in 1966, which adopted the slogan "freedom by any means necessary." 

KTVU's Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.