‘Negro’ Stays in Geographic Descriptions in South Dakota
Whoever believes the old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” has never been on the receiving end of insulting words spoken often and with malice or indifference. Names matter. Words matter.
The South Dakota Board on Geographic Names met in Pierre on Tuesday. On the agenda were 17 locations with names identified as offensive by the Legislature in a law passed in 2009. All of the locations had either the word “Negro” or “Squaw” attached to them.
Once we learned what the word “squaw” means when translated into English, even the most jaded of us would say, that word has got to go.
The word “Negro” is different. According to the Miriam Webster Dictionary here is the definition:
a member of a race of humankind native to Africa and classified according to physical features (as dark skin pigmentation)
The dictionary notes that the word is “sometimes considered offensive.”
As the Commission was discussing the removal of the word ”Negro,” a group of South Dakota citizens who happen to be “Negro”, Black, and/or African American, testified. They were from the South Dakota African American History Museum in Sioux Falls.
Porter Williams, the museum curator testified the word “Negro” is not offensive. He further stated the sites with that word as part of the name should continue to use it to recognize the contribution of African Americans in South Dakota history.
After the testimony the board decided to stop work on sites with that word. For now, Negro Canyon, Little Negro Creek, Negro Gulch, and six other locations, will continue to be identified that way.
Work on removing the word “Squaw” from eight locations including Little Squaw Humper Table in Shannon County which is in south western South Dakota, will continue.
Offensive words describing people, races, and cultures should not be used to identify places in our great state.
Hats off to members of the African History Museum in Sioux Falls for educating the Commission, and us, on the use of “Negro.”
Rational thinking and logic have prevailed.