The former name of Texas governor Rick Perry’s hunting camp was certainly an alarming discovery, but it’s far from the only shockingly racist name of places across the US. Take for instance Negro Mountain in western Maryland, or Runaway Negro Creek in a state park right outside Savannah, GA. Park Rangers in the area do their best to keep from using the name.
America must have forgotten its history. Names such as these and “Niggerhead” in Texas were once so common that they were brand names for soap and tobacco, among other everyday products. But with Perry’s camp grounds in the spotlight, the New York Times reports that people are beginning to wonder just why these names are still around.
The federal government had the n-word replaced with “Negro” in all geographic names in 1963. Back then the word was an appropriate term for African Americans. But now there are those who wonder whether or not it’s even appropriate to continue to use the name “Negro.”
The United States Board on Geographic Names is the federal agency responsible for the collection of the over 2.5 million official names of streams, mountains, cities and civic buildings. There are 757 of them with ”Negro” or some variation of the word in the title, according to executive secretary of the board Lou Yost.
While there have been various attempts to remove these racially offensive names, the process of changing official government names of places is not always easy. Yost discloses that it’s not something his agency does lightly.
Official federal name changes are requested by a petitioner who must then convince a state board and the federal government that a new name is more suitable, using both historical significance and local acceptance to support the case.
Not all local residents in areas with the names want the names to be removed. Negro Creek Road located near Columbia, Tennessee was named in honor of three young black boys who drowned in the mouth of the creek in the early 1800s.
“Every three to five years somebody will rise up and say, ‘Oh, my! Why do you call it that?’ ” Bob Duncan, the county historian said to the NY Times. “We tell them and they say, ‘Oh, O.K.’ ”
Negrohead Mountain near Malibu, California however, was one of those places where the people wanted the name changed. In 2009, petitioners were successful and it was officially changed to Ballard Mountain, after the black homesteader who lived there.
“A lot of people feel the names should not be changed because they reflect a historical reality,” history professor Patricia Colman, who fought for the Negrohead Mountain name change, told the NY Times. “I would argue that there are better ways to teach that history.”