City known as ‘Hangtown’ removes noose from its official city logo

Placerville, California, council votes to change controversial seal

The City Council in an old California Gold Rush town voted this week to remove a hangman’s noose from its official city seal that had been a fixture since the 1850s.

The city of Placerville, also known as “Hangtown,” voted unanimously to change the controversial emblem after emotional public comments from residents on both sides of the issue Tuesday night.

Some argued for the logo to stay, saying it was an integral part of the town’s history, while others said it perpetuated a barbaric history that no longer deserved to be a part of the city’s reputation, according to CBS 13 Sacramento.

The circular logo shows a miner washing gold in a stream. The noose hangs from a tree in the background. Written around the image are the words “City of Placerville,” “Old Hangtown” and “1854,” the year the city was incorporated.

The noose was a vestige of the town’s mid-19th century origins when thousands of fortune-seekers descended from all over the world in search of gold.

Public lynchings and mass hangings were commonplace throughout the Old West.

ExploreFEBRUARY: False claim that Cracker Barrel logo depicts slave whip goes viral

According to historians, Placerville was first called Dry Diggins — a reference to a type of mining — and then became known as Hangtown when three men — two French and one Chilean — were lynched in 1849 on suspicion of crimes.

The fourth and final lynching occurred in 1850 after a man stabbed someone in a saloon, according to the presentation by Brendan Lindsay, associate professor of history at California State University, Sacramento.

Other lynchings were considered, but suspects were ultimately turned over to authorities and the name Placerville rapidly overtook the nickname in published reports.

Combined ShapeCaption
A mannequin hangs from the Hangman's Tree Historic Spot in Placerville, California.

Credit: Hailey Branson-Potts

A mannequin hangs from the Hangman's Tree Historic Spot in Placerville, California.

Credit: Hailey Branson-Potts

Combined ShapeCaption
A mannequin hangs from the Hangman's Tree Historic Spot in Placerville, California.

Credit: Hailey Branson-Potts

Credit: Hailey Branson-Potts

Today, numerous signs and symbols referencing Hangtown can be found all around Placerville, the El Dorado County seat in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada about two hours northeast of San Francisco.

The decision to remove it from the city seal comes amid a nationwide reckoning on racial injustice that erupted over the police custody death of George Floyd last May. Since then, Civil War relics, Confederate statues and monuments to slavery have been vandalized and torn down in many American cities.

ExploreFEBRUARY: 160 Confederate symbols toppled in 2020, but hundreds remain

The Anti-Defamation League classifies a hangman’s noose as a hate symbol that is primarily used to intimidate Black people.

During the eras of Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Civil Rights, bands of white vigilantes usually led by the Ku Klux Klan were notorious for carrying out lynchings, bombings and assassinations on Black people with impunity, and with few — if any — legal consequences.

ExploreAJC INDEPTH: An American tragedy — the lynching of Emmett Till

During the lynching era, it was not uncommon for the deaths of Black men to be ruled as suicides to cover up murders by white mobs and police officers, according to The Washington Post.

Memories of the atrocities are still an open wound for the Black community, which has led city governments such as the one in Placerville to do away with the hurtful relics.

Explore2020: Despite false alarm at NASCAR, nooses sighted in at least 11 cities across nation

Dozens of noose sightings across the country last year heightened fears and suspicions amid festering racial tensions in the wake of Floyd’s death.

The noose sightings were exacerbated when five people of color were found hanging from trees in three U.S. cities during the summer, which fueled rumors about the possibility of lynchings, but officials ruled every case a suicide.

Information provided by The Associated Press was used to supplement this report.