Texas Lawmakers Urge Federal Board To Remove ‘Negro’ From Geographic Sites

This is the second time lawmakers have asked the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to approve the name changes. Its previous request, in 1991, failed.
A similar resolution in Texas to change the names was passed 30 years ago, but it failed to make adequate changes.
A similar resolution in Texas to change the names was passed 30 years ago, but it failed to make adequate changes.

Texas lawmakers are once again urging a federal board to change the racially offensive names of geographic locations across the state.

The Texas House and Senate signed a resolution last month that urges the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to approve name change requests for 16 locations that include the term “negro.” The panel plans to meet Thursday to vote on the removal, The Washington Post reported.

“The perpetuation of racially offensive language is a stain on the Lone Star State, and it is vital that the names of these geographic features be changed in order to reflect and honor the diversity of the population,” state Sen. Borris Miles wrote in the resolution.

The USBGN, which is tasked with maintaining geographic names for the federal government, blocked a similar request from the state in 1991. 

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who co-sponsored the name change proposal 30 years ago, said he learned last year through an NPR reporter that just one of the 19 names he originally proposed be changed had been ― and that was due to a request from a local property developer in 2018. Two other locations he identified no longer exist, leaving 16 locations unchanged. He alerted state lawmakers about the locations that hadn’t been renamed. 

“If it’s so easy to give an awful name, why isn’t it so easy to change that name?” Ellis told The Washington Post while blasting bureaucratic red tape.

The USBGN, which is part of the Department of Interior, has said the name changes were previously rejected because the proposed new names lacked a historical connection and because there wasn’t any evidence of local support. Both are requirements for a name change, even if a name is considered derogatory or offensive, according to the USBGN’s website.

“We spent a lot of time reaching out to the counties, and a lot of them said, ‘No, don’t change those names. And we were not consulted,’” USBGN researcher Jennifer Runyon told NPR last year.

The process stopped there because it’s not the board’s job to actively try to change names, Runyon said.

In 1963, then-Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall ordered that the N-word and an offensive term for Japanese Americans be removed from all geographic names. At that time, some of those names were changed to include the word “negro.”

The USBGN’s website lists hundreds of locations across the country with the word “negro” in them.

The current resolution in Texas, Senate Concurrent Resolution 29, resubmits the previously proposed name changes for each location.

One creek in Van Zandt County, for example, would be renamed Milton Holland Creek and a creek in Brewster County would be renamed Buffalo Soldier Creek. Another creek in Freestone County would be changed to Jack Johnson Creek.

USBGN’s website recognizes the failed attempt at changing the names for all three of those locations. It states that the proposal was rejected in 1999 “because the Board did not observe any evidence that there was any local involvement in the renaming process.” In the case of Freestone County, there was also “no evidence of local objection to the current name or local acceptance of the proposed name.”

In a comment shared with HuffPost on Wednesday, Judge Linda Grant from Freestone County said she didn’t know that there was a creek in the area with the word “negro” in its title and was not aware of the past or current name change request.

Attempts to reach officials in both Van Zandt and Brewster counties were unsuccessful on Wednesday. The USBGN and Miles also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a photo that was misidentified as the Department of the Interior. It has been removed.