Why Do These Racist Place Names Still Exist?

Yikes! What century do we live in again? “At least” 1,441 towns, landmarks and other spots in the U.S. still have racist place names, according to Vocativ. These include the charmingly named Chinaman Lagoon and Dago Creek in Arkansas; Wetback Tank, New Mexico; Darkey Springs in Tennessee; and Jew Point in Florida.

These names occur in every state in the U.S., but especially in southern and western states. The state of California alone boasts over 159 highly racist place names such as Chinaman Creek, Dago Springs, Squaw Valley ski resort, and — Good Grief! — the Pickaninny Buttes.

So why haven’t we got rid of these racist place names? It’ s not for lack of trying. Slate explains:
The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, a branch of the Interior Department, issued two blanket rules decades ago to erase racial slurs from federal maps. In 1962, they replaced the n-word with “Negro” in the names of at least 174 places. [
] Then they replaced dozens of occurrences of the word “Jap” with “Japanese” in 1974.

Alas, old habits die hard, plus it means spending money and changing signs and all

A Small Sampling Of Racist Place Names.

Racist place names: Whitesboro, N.Y. (Photo City-Data.com).

Whitesboro, N.Y.: It’s not so bad, as far as racist place names go, at least not until you see what goes with it. The town seal supposedly shows the town’s founder, Hugh White, wrestling with a Native American. Unfortunately, it looks more like a strangling murder taking place. So why haven’t the folks in Whitesboro ditched that seal, which appears on stationery, police cars and just every other official thing in town? Some have brought it up, but the Oneida Nation doesn’t seem all that upset about it. However, Council Turtle Clan Rep. Clint Hill did tell the Utica Observer-Dispatch he’d like the city to make some minor corrections to portray an accurate Indian wrestling stance and proper head-dress.

Racist place names: Negro Bill Canyon (Photo Public Domain 2008).

Negro Bill Canyon, Moab, Utah: This canyon actually was named after William Granstaff, an African-American cowboy, so perhaps it’s not as offensive as it seems (we hope it wasn’t originally called “N-word Bill Canyon”). Still, the Grand County Council has talked about applying to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for something more appropriate, like maybe the man’s actual name. That discussion belatedly began this summer in the wake of the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in Charleston, S.C. and the eventual removal of the Confederate flag from the state’s capital.

Racist place names: Squaw Tit mountain in Phoenix, Ariz. Peak Photos via Greg Newkirk.

Squaw Tit, Phoenix, Ariz.:  “Squaw” is one of the most common of the racist place names. Vocativ explains that while some historians claim “squaw” is just an Algonquin word for “woman,” others say it derives from “ojiskwa,” the Mohawk word for vagina. Greg Newkirk writes on Kinja that Jack Jackson, a state rep. and Navajo, fought for ten years to get the name changed and finally won in 2003. The mountain is now named Piestewa Peak after Lori Piestewa, a soldier in Iraq, a member of the Hopi tribe, and the first Native American woman in history to give her life in combat for the U.S. military. Alas, many folks still call it by the old name.

Racist place names: Chinaman Gulch, in Chafee County, Colo. (Photo: cc 2010 Colorado Guy.)Chinaman Gulch, Chafee County, Colo.: Perhaps this racist name hasn’t been changed because China Man Gulch isn’t terribly well-known or accessible. Located in the rugged Triad Ridge mountains by the ominously named Carnage Canyon, only die-hard hikers and rugged manly men in jeeps and ATVs seem to come out here. Even an avid outdoorsman who goes by the handle Colorado Guy declares, “I doubt I will do this climb again.”

Find The Racist Place Names In Your State.

The folks at Vocativ used their muggle technical magic “to cross-reference every derogatory term listed in The Racial Slur Database with the 2.2 million official names of locations listed in the U.S. Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System (GNIS).” Here’s the fabulous result so you can look up racist places names in your state.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *