Marin Co. renames slough to better honor pioneering Black settler, John Pinkston

Liz Kreutz Image
ByLiz Kreutz KGO logo
Tuesday, May 9, 2023
Marin Co. renames slough to better honor pioneering Black settler
Marin County is renaming its waterway formerly named "Black John Slough" to better honor a pioneering Black settler, John Pinkston.

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- It's something most of us have probably never heard of, or at least, thought much of: the name of a little known waterway in unincorporated Novato that feeds into the Petaluma River.

For roughly 150 years, it's been called Black John Slough. But for fascinating reasons, that's now changed. The new name? Pinkston Slough.

"I felt like this was an important story to tell that wasn't really well highlighted," Michael Warner, a former Marin County park ranger who now works in Palo Alto, told ABC7 News.

Warner started a petition to rename Black John Slough after researching the origins of the man it's name after. His name was John Pinkston. It's believed Pinkston was born into slavery in the West Indies before becoming one of the first Black settlers in Marin.

Warner said newspaper clippings from the time show locals referred to him as "Black John."

VIDEO: Remembering the 'Harlem of the West': A local musician's mission to preserve Oakland's Blues culture

Executive Director of the West Coast Blues Society Ronnie Stewart is working to preserve West Oakland's rich Blues history.

"It was very likely a name that was bestowed upon him more than a name that he chose for himself," Warner said.

Historians don't know exactly when and why Pinkston settled in Marin County although it is known that he came sometime in the late 1840s. When he arrived, he soon became a prominent part of society. He worked as a mediator between the Native Americans and the settlers, and he was one of the first Black men -- if not the first -- to own land here in the county.

"When he passed away in 1872, it was written up in the newspaper that he was one of the pioneers of Marin County," Warner said.

And that's why it didn't seem right to Warner that Pinkston was being called out for his race when no other settler was.

"That's the thing," Warner explained, "I know there were some folks who were adamant about not changing it and it's like, look, we're not trying to rewrite history, we're just trying to say this feature was already named after this person, but it was named based on how the powers of the time looked at him."

VIDEO: Bay Area civil rights icon continues the Black Panther's legacy while building a new one

Elaine Brown, chair of the Black Panther Party founded in Oakland in 1966, is building a new legacy by creating homes for low income residents.

"And it's like, we should update how we look at him," Warner added. "He should get the same recognition and the same honor as anyone else who would have been a pioneer in Marin County at that time."

Warner submitted his petition to the U.S. Geological Survey last year. In April, he received their response. They agreed to change the name to Pinkston Slough.

"They sent me a letter saying they had reviewed the facts of the case and it showed merit that they should update the name to better reflect the history of the area," Warner said.

"It's very fulfilling. I'm glad I got to help tell this person's story."

It's a seemingly small change, he hopes will have a big impact.

"Hopefully this project inspires other people to start critically looking at the landscape around them and understanding the stories that are tied to their landscape," Warner said. "Because maybe they can affect some positive change."

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live