Friday, October 7, 2011

The N-word: A fact of geography in the U.S.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2011 at 6:32 AM

ITS ON THE MAP: Negrohead Corner in Woodruff county.
  • Google Maps
  • IT'S ON THE MAP: Negro Head Road in Woodruff County.

The New York Times has a useful feature today on the frequent appearance of racially-based names of places and geographic features throughout the United States. This arises from reporting on Rick Perry's hunting camp, once known as Niggerhead.

The United States Board on Geographic Names, the federal agency that maintains the official names of more than 2.5 million streams, mountains, cities and civic buildings, lists 757 names that use the word Negro or a variation, said Lou Yost, executive secretary of the board.

Some are based on the Spanish word for black and are not necessarily race-based, but many were derived from the same slur that caused trouble for Mr. Perry.

In 1963, the federal government ordered that the offensive term be replaced with “Negro” in all geographic names. At the time, that word was an acceptable reference to African-Americans. (The only other similar blanket order came a few years later, when the word “Jap” on place names was changed to “Japanese.”)

But language, like culture, changes. Now place names like Negro Mountain in western Maryland seem, to many, antiquated at best and offensive at worst.

Arkansas is not exempt. A search for the word Negro in Arkansas place names, as compiled in a U.S. Board on Geographic Names search, yields a list of racial names. Among the Arkansas places listed in the registry, by county:

Negro Bend, a historical populated place in Drew County
Negro Bill Point, Woodruff
Negro Branch streams in Howard and Yell counties
Negro Creek, Scott
Negro Head Corner, a populated place in Woodruff
Negro Head Slough, Greene
Negro Hill, in Faulkner, Izard, Van Buren and Pope
Negro Hill Church, Sebastian

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