Opinion

Commentary: William Shockley's legacy — warts and all

This editorial appeared in The Sacramento Bee.

There's no doubt that William B. Shockley was an outspoken racist who believed that African Americans were inferior and should be paid not to reproduce. But he was also a brilliant scientist who won a Nobel Prize for co-inventing the transistor. He pioneered the technology that ushered in the computer age, no small achievement.

Appraising Shockley's legacy is a complex matter, as evidenced by the dispute over the park that the late Shockley and his wife, Emmy, bequeathed to the Auburn Recreation District. The district board accepted the 28 acres of woodland and agreed to name the park the "Nobel Laureate William B. Shockley and His Wife Emmy L. Shockley Memorial Park," as the bequest requires.

On balance, the board made the appropriate decision.

The name emphasizes the achievements of Shockley that all Americans can admire. He made a contribution to science that should not be overlooked or discounted because of his controversial and wrongheaded views on race.

Still, those wrongheaded views should not be overlooked, either. When a plaque is placed at the park identifying Shockley, it should include information about his achievements as well as his racist views and a clear statement of opposition to those views.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.

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