Democrat lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would rename places around the country that have “racist” history or “bigoted” names, as part of their ongoing efforts to address aspects of U.S. history they deem offensive.
U.S. Sens. Ed J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced the Reconciliation in Place Names Act, which was originally introduced in 2020 with then-Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.).
The legislation more specifically aims to create a board to oversee the naming of more than 1,000 towns, lakes, streams, creeks, and mountain peaks across the U.S. that have, “offensive names that celebrate people who have upheld slavery, committed unspeakable acts against Native Americans, or led Confederate war efforts.”
The board would also seek to change names based on “offensive slurs that degrade people based on their race or background, making many feel unwelcome.”
“We need to immediately stop honoring the ugly legacy of racism and bigotry, and that’s why I’m introducing the Reconciliation in Place Names Act with my colleagues,” Warren said.
The progressive senator went on to say the purpose of the bill is to end expressions of systemic racism, bigotry, and dismantling white supremacy from American society.
In the House, the bill is being sponsored by Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) and has 25 cosponsors.
If passed the bill would authorize the creation of an advisory board consisting of people from civil rights organizations, race relation experts, and tribal members.
The advisory board would then accept proposals from tribal nations, state and local governments, and members of the public, and would provide an opportunity for the public to comment on name change proposals.
After public input, the advisory board would make recommendations to the Board on Geographic Names on geographic features to be renamed and to Congress on renaming Federal land features.
Examples of some of the places that would have their names changed include Mt. Evans Wilderness which takes the name of John Evans, the state’s second territorial governor. Evans commissioned the volunteer calvary that carried out the Sand Creek Massacre, in which close to 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians were killed.
A 2014 report by Northwestern University Study Committee found that Evans did not pre-plan the massacre.
“No known evidence indicates that John Evans helped plan the Sand Creek Massacre or had any knowledge of it in advance. The extant evidence suggests that he did not consider the Indians at Sand Creek to be a threat and that he would have opposed the attack that took place,” the report states.
Another place that would be renamed is now called the Negro Bar State Park, near Sacramento, CA, which is named for Black miners during the Gold Rush era.
Michael Harris the president of the Friends of Negro Bar believes changing the name would be eliminating history.
“I don’t know why people are offended by the word negro,” said Harris. “After 172 years, it has been Negro Bar.”
However, residents like Phaedra Jones in 2018 were stunned to see the name and started a change.org petition.
The Reconciliation in Place Names Act has been endorsed by many civil rights and conservations groups including, the National Congress of American Indians, The Wilderness Society, Hispanic Access Foundation, Native Outdoors, Defenders of Wildlife, The Geological Society of America, and The American Geophysical Union.
In June, Democrats in the House passed a bill 285-120, which remove statues honoring those who upheld slavery or backed the Confederacy from the Capitol building, from its display of statues selected by all 50 states.
There has also been an effort by Democrats to remove statues and rename military installations that have a confederate history.