Negro Bill Canyon in southern Utah has a new name.
The canyon will now be known as Grandstaff Canyon after years of debates over the offensive race-based moniker, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. The name honors William Grandstaff, a former Alabama slave who later raised cattle just north of Moab, Utah.
A 12-0 vote decided the canyon’s fate before The U.S. Board on Geographic Names Thursday, 16 years after the board voted to keep the name. Local support and strong contention over the name were cited as reasons for the change.
“His name was Grandstaff; it was not Negro Bill,” said Wendi-Starr Brown, a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe who represents the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the U.S. Board, which is comprised of officials from various government agencies. “I’m pretty sure that’s not how he wanted to be addressed in life.”
But others disagreed with Brown and denounced the decision.“If they go back and look into the history, they will find that Negro is not an offensive word,” said Jeanetta Williams, president of the Tri-State NAACP branch, which covers Utah, Nevada and Idaho.
The board’s decision overturns a previous 2001 vote to keep the Negro Bill Canyon name after locally elected officials objected to changing it. A recommendation to keep the “Negro Bill” name was given by The Utah Committee on Geographic Names, who cited a lack of consensus from state minority groups, The Associated Press reported.
The Grand County Council in Utah, however, reversed its stance earlier this year to support the Grandstaff Canyon name. The Bureau of Land Management and The Utah Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, who called the previous name “blatant racism,” backed that effort.
And local officials and business owners have long said the name prompts frequent complaints and outcry from tourists. Board members want to move on from this history.
“We have to look forward,” said board member Elizabeth Kanalley, “keeping that name labeled the way it is kinda like we’re just not recognizing this is hurtful to people.”
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