Utah panel votes to keep con­tro­ver­sial canyon name

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST -

SALT LAKE CITY» A Utah state panel has voted to rec­om­mend re­tain­ing the name of Utah’s Ne­gro Bill Canyon af­ter re­ceiv­ing con­flict­ing opin­ions about whether it is of­fen­sive.

The Utah Com­mit­tee on Ge­o­graphic Names said Fri­day that a lack of con­sen­sus from mi­nor­ity groups led to its 8-2 vote Thurs­day about a canyon that is home to a pop­u­lar hik­ing spot in the eastern city of Moab, the gate­way to stun­ning mas­sive red rock for­ma­tions.

The com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tion next goes to the U.S. Board on Ge­o­graphic Names, which is ex­pected to make a fi­nal de­ci­sion on canyon’s name later this year.

The lo­cal and na­tional branches of the NAACP told the com­mis­sion the name is not of­fen­sive and pre­serves the his­tory of a canyon named for black rancher and prospec­tor Wil­liam Grand­staff, whose cat­tle grazed there in the 1870s.

Jeanetta Wil­liams, pres­i­dent of NAACP’S tri-state con­fer­ence area of Idaho-utah-ne­vada, said the word “ne­gro” may make some peo­ple feel uncomfortable but that there’s noth­ing wrong with it. Other groups still use “ne­gro” in their names, she said, cit­ing the Na­tional Coun­cil of Ne­gro Women, she said.

“To san­i­tize it de­stroys the his­tory and the back­ground of what it is,” Wil­liams said. “It’s a word we of­ten use in his­tory, it’s in ti­tles. It’s no more uncomfortable say­ing the word ne­gro than it is say­ing African-amer­i­can or black.”

But the de­ci­sion drew strong re­buke from a mem­ber 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.”

John Hol­len­horst, The De­seret News via The As­so­ci­ated Press

A sign at the en­trance of the Ne­gro Bill Canyon Trail­head in Moab, Utah. A Utah state com­mis­sion is rec­om­mend­ing pre­serv­ing the name of Utah’s Ne­gro Bill Canyon de­spite con­cerns that it’s of­fen­sive.

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