Beyond Rick Perry hunting camp, offensive names litter U.S. landscape
The short answer is all across the country, not only in people’s memories, but also listed as such on maps, mostly in rural areas, according to a scholar who studies place names.
Mark Monmonier, a geographer at Syracuse University, says that the three most offensive place names that can still be found on some maps are “nigger,” “jap” and “squaw.” This is mainly because during the first half of the 1900s, topographers were sent out to name and measure geographic locations and relied on local input.
Those names, some offensive, were then codified in federal maps and served as a snapshot of colloquial language and racial attitudes, Monmonier said.
In Perry’s case, the Post reported that the current Texas governor and 2012 presidential candidate hosted lawmakers and others at a West Texas hunting camp at the entrance of which, for some period of time, was a stone on which was painted the word “Niggerhead.” The Perry camp says the stone was painted over in 1983, but the Post accounts from seven different people tell a different story.
A search of the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) turned up at least 24 names from Alaska to New York of lakes, creeks, points and capes that once bore the name “Niggerhead,” but have since been changed, in some cases to names like “Negrohead.” Perry’s hunting ranch was apparently never mapped and is not part of the database.
Out of the 1960s and the civil rights movement, a wholesale effort at renaming such places emerged, as the federal government didn’t want to be associated with such names.
Secretary of Interior Stuart Udall had this to say about the Kennedy administration’s effort to root out and rename places with offensive names:
“Whatever the overtones of the word were in the past, unquestionably a great many people now consider it derogatory or worse. It is like an obscenity in that avoidance of its use is common courtesy and in that its use may incur some sort of social penalty,” Udall said in 1962. “I do not see how the Federal Government can in conscience require the use of the word in any connection.”
The GNIS database shows that offensive place names now mostly exist as variants--for instance, Battle Creek in Oklahoma, a stream where black Union soldiers were killed in the Civil War, was officially Nigger Creek until 1990.
Negro Hill, in Loudon County, Va., was once Nigger Hill.
In 1933, the U.S. Geographic Board approved naming a hill in Rockingham County, Va., “Niggerhead.” Yet in 2000, the site was renamed “Negro Head.”
Monmonier says that the map updating and renaming process starts with a request to rename a place, followed by suggestions for a new name that must meet certain requirements.
“In remote rural areas, where most of these places are, the map updating has been very slow,” Monmonier explained. “The names still exist in databases, in little known places and in people’s memories.”
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