A federal council on Thursday approved the renaming of 16 sites in Texas whose names include the word “Negro,” a change long sought by politicians and activists in the state, but which will affect only a small fraction hundreds of racist names of cities and geographic features that remain in the United States.
The US Board on Geographic Names, a committee of the Home Department, approved the name changes weeks after Texas lawmakers unanimously passed a bill urging the council to approve them.
The council also approved alternate names, including a creek northwest of Austin renamed in honor of Ada Simond, a black teacher, historian and activist who died in 1989. A hill in Burnet County has been renamed in honor of Bill Pickett, a black cowboy and actor.
“It was a long time coming,” said Rodney Ellis, a Harris County commissioner, who sponsored a Texas law almost 30 years ago requiring a name change. “Just as we say ‘Black lives matter’, names matter. They matter a lot.
The United States has a long history of cities and geographies bearing racist names, and the past decades have seen efforts to change them. Many have been renamed, but other efforts have met with resistance, often from locals who are proud of their history and see no reason to change.
See, for example, White Settlement, Texas.
“People chose to give these offensive names to roads, rivers and streams because they wanted to make a statement, a statement that would go beyond their voices, beyond this generation,” Mr. Ellis. “If this is a statement that is not something we want people to emulate, we have to acknowledge it.”
There were no opposing votes from Texas lawmakers in May, when they passed the Act urging action.
“The perpetuation of racist language is a stain on the Lone Star State, and it is vital that the names of these geographic features be changed to reflect and honor the diversity of the population,” included the text of the draft. law.
It was the second time that Texas lawmakers voted to change the names. In 1991, after a law was passed requiring the name change, the federal council blocked the changes, saying there had not been enough local support, Mr Ellis said.
But Mr Ellis had failed to realize the effort had been stalled, he recalled recently, and had thought for years that the names had been changed until a reporter for the National Public Radio reported it. questioned last year.
“I said, ‘It’s done, it’s over,'” Mr Ellis told the reporter. “He said, ‘No sir, it isn’t.'”
There are several hundred geographic sites left in the United States whose names include “Negro,” according to a government database. Hundreds of them – and others that have been altered in recent decades – used a similar and more offensive racial slur until 1963, when the government ordered the word removed from remaining sites.
Last year, Home Secretary Deb Haaland, then the Democratic Party of New Mexico, introduced the Reconciliation in Place Names Act, which would create a process for the Geographic Names Board to review and review offensive names of federal lands and sites.
Mr Ellis said that while the renaming of the 16 Texas sites is a step forward, there is still work to be done, including changing other names that are racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-immigrant.
“I hope this will lead to changes in the policies of this council,” Ellis said. “There are a lot of things we all need to go to Congress for. It shouldn’t be.