Negro Bill canyon: Utah says name of hiking spot should stay

Committee says name should be kept owing to lack of consensus on whether it is offensive in latest spin in long-running debate

A panel of experts in Utah has recommended keeping the name of a popular hiking place called Negro Bill canyon after receiving conflicting opinions about whether it is offensive.

The Utah committee on geographic names said on Friday that a lack of consensus from minority groups led to its 8-2 vote on Thursday about a canyon in the eastern city of Moab, the gateway to stunning massive red rock formations.

The local and national branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ( NAACP) told the commission the name was not offensive and preserved the history of a canyon named for black rancher and prospector William Grandstaff, whose kine grazed there in the 1870 s.

Jeanetta Williams, the local president of the NAACP, said the word negro may construct some people feel uncomfortable but there was nothing incorrect with it. Other groups still use negroes in their names, she told, quoting the National Council of Negro Women.

To sanitize it destroys the history and the background of what it is, Williams said. Its a word we often use in history, its in titles … Its no more uncomfortable saying the word negro than it is saying African-American or black.

But the decision described a strong rebuke from the states members of the Utah Martin Luther King Jr Commission, which sent a letter proposing a name change to relegate such blatant racism to the annals of history.

It is inexplicable to me that today in the 21 st century that reasonably intelligent people who I know have kindness in their hearts discovered it acceptable to allow this name to continue to exist, told Jasen Lee, who said he was speaking for himself and not the entire commission.

The commission said in its letter that the word negro was a racially offensive descriptor and that it was time to finally make the change.

To remove the racially offensive descriptor from the official title of the popular geographic feature would express to the world that Utah has progressed to a place where such flagrant insensitivity is no longer tolerated or acceptable in our community, it wrote.

After the decision was issued, the commission on human rights said in a statement it was disappointed by the move.

The canyon south-east of Salt Lake City and the unique red-rock landscapes in nearby national parks entice tourists from around the world.

Its name has long been debated and a proposed change in 1999 failed after receiving no subsistence from Utah counties and country and federal land management agencies, the country geographic names committee said in a statement.

Spurred by complaints concerning tourists, the Grand county council voted in January to change the canyons name after refusing to do so in 2013 and 2015, told council member Mary McGann.

In September last year, the federal Bureau of Land Management administratively changed the signs at the Negro Bill trailhead to read instead Grandstaff Trailhead.

The decisions by the county council and the land management prompted the geographic names committee to take up the name change issue. It was difficult for the members of the commission to reach a decision because of the conflicting opinions, said member Dina Blaes.

Its truly not the committees undertaking to pick winners and losers, its not our job to decide Oh, youre more credible or youre less credible, said Blaes, the CEO of the Exoro Group, a public affairs firm and also chair of the state history board. We did not come to this decision easily.

Lee, a reporter for the Deseret News and KSL-TV in Salt Lake City, called the lack-of-consensus justification a lame excuse. He said he remembered when he was a boy in the 1970 s and people stopped calling black people negroes. You cant name something utilizing that descriptor today, said Lee, 51. Its hurtful to people like myself who are of a certain age that they know what this entails. It speaks poorly of our state, of which Im a proud resident.

The commissions recommendation next goes to the US board on geographic names, which is expected to make a final decision on canyons name later this year.

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