Untold decades ago, someone decided to name a hunting camp in West Texas “Niggerhead,” using a phrase so commonplace around the South that it was used as a brand name for oysters, soap, tobacco and even golf tees. When Gov. Rick Perry’s family took over the lease for the camp in 1983, it could have demanded that the name be changed. It could have destroyed the rock on which the name was painted. It could have broken with an era when vicious racism was so casual that officials put such a word on maps around the country.Texas...A welcome sign at the entrance of Throckmorton, the county seat. The Perry family's longtime hunting camp is situated on a vast, 42,000-acre ranch that reaches into Throckmorton and two other counties
Instead, Mr. Perry’s father simply painted over the name, although not very thoroughly. The Washington Post found several people who said the word was clearly visible just in the last few years. Now that the hunting camp has become part of the presidential campaign, the governor says the name “has no place in the modern world.” In that, he is certainly right.
The more common attitude expressed by some of his neighbors is that the name is a mere historical artifact, nothing to see here. “It’s just a name,” David Davis, a county judge in the area, told The Post. “There was no significance other than as a hunting deal.” It is that supposed lack of significance to the Perry family — and far too much of the nation — that is so disturbing.
Virtually all states, particularly in the South, have had creeks, hills and hamlets bearing this offensive epithet. Someone may have decided a rock outcropping resembled an African jaw. Nigger Skull Mountain, as one spot in North Carolina was known until just a decade ago, was apparently named for the remains of two blacks who froze to death on it sometime around the Civil War. The place names were given with the same nonchalance as blacks were openly referred to as niggers.
In 1962, the federal government changed all such place names under its jurisdiction to “Negro.” Three or four decades later, states like Texas, Florida and North Carolina got the hint and did the same with state lands, though the results were often not much better. Negro Skull Mountain is hardly an improvement, and neither are Colored Mountain orDead Negro Draw, both in Texas.
On private land, and in common parlance, these offensive names often continue, surviving a century of social change, lasting through Reconstruction, world wars, the civil rights movement, right up until the current moment, when the word has added new doubts to Mr. Perry’s staggering political campaign. However much paint was actually applied to Mr. Perry’s rock, it was not enough to wipe away the memory of a national shame.