This morning, President Obama uttered three words in his speech to the United Nations that had never been heard on the floor of that international body. The three words were “Grass Valley, California” and they were mentioned in the President’s tribute to Chris Stevens, the slain ambassador who was born here in 1960. We did not know Chris, as his family moved away shortly after his emergence. Still, he was remembered as a native son of the Gold Country community we call home.
This comes as we debate who we are and where we are going in the 21st Century. Perhaps it would be helpful to reflect on who we were, and how we evolved to our present condition. In the greater scheme of history, Nevada County and its communities are mere toddlers compared to the ancient cities of Europe and Asia, but we have contributed much in our 162 year history.
We were born in a frenzy of greed and violence in the rush for gold in 1849. Prospectors from all points of the planet gathered here to seek their fortune. While doing so, the 49ers murdered and cast out the Nisenan. They raped the land and clogged the rivers with the refuse of their endeavors.
But from the chaos, civilization took hold. In 1855, our first born celebrity was Josiah Royce, noted philosopher and historian. Today his memory is overshadowed by our famous immigrant rock stars, Countess Lola Montez and outlaw Black Bart. We honor the memory of District Attorney, newspaper publisher and Senator Aaron Sargent for writing the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave the female gender the right to vote, and choose to forget that he also authored The Chinese Exclusion Act that reinforced white supremacy and kept the yellow man from settling upon our shores.
Closer to the present, there are other notables who made their mark elsewhere then chose to live here. Chuck Yeager, who broke the sound barrier and inspired The Right Stuff, married a local girl and moved here. Revered folk singer and social activist U. Utah Phillips was a resident of Nevada City and beat poet/environmentalist Gary Snyder lives on the Ridge. Dan O’Neill was the cartoonist for The Nevada County Nugget before he became the youngest cartoonist to be nationally syndicated. Later he challenged Walt Disney and the first amendment all the way to the Supreme Court. Peter Collier was the editor of the radical magazine Ramparts before remaking himself as a conservative scholar and author of presidential biographies.
Charles Litton built a research lab on the top of a hill overlooking town and inspired Dr. Hare to establish Grass Valley Group, which revolutionized television graphics and electronics. GVG spawned dozens of offshoots, including AJA, which is now located within spittin’ distance of the old Litton building.
So it’s hard to say we are one thing or the other. We have been destroyers and builders, liberals and conservatives, radicals and moderates. In short, we are America.