Utah panel votes to keep controversial canyon name
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.”
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.