Where in the United States can you visit Niggerhead Mountain, Chinaman’s Canyon, and the Squaw Tits mountain summit all in the road trip? Is that "Arizona" I heard you say? You're darn tootin', my friend!
In a new analysis of all of the official names of landmarks recognized by the U.S. Geological Survey, Vocativ found at least 1,441 locations with racially-charged, derogatory names from back in the old days when people thought it was cool to put things like that on maps. Arizona, as luck would have it, holds the high distinction of having the most racist landmarks of all.
If Arizona's a little too far out of the way, worry not because the entire country is chock full of historical bigotry that you can drive, hike, and bike through on your next outdoor excursion. If the highest number of anti-black slurs-per-mile is more your style, Tennessee's your best bet. Looking for a state with just a few racist landmarks? Try South Dakota.
Whichever state you choose to trek though, chances are that the racist landmark you come across will make use of the word "squaw," commonly used in reference to Native Americans. Interestingly, a large number of these sites make specific reference to the anatomy of Native women. The reason? Most of the original frontiersmen who came upon and subsequently named places in the U.S. were what we would today consider racist white men.
“The pioneer society, not just going West over the wagon train but also in mining areas, were exclusively male,” Syracuse University geography professor Mark Monmonier told Vocativ. “When the geological survey started mapping, they basically sent people into the area to try and identify features and would try to reflect local usage.”
Many of the names refer to events (like the deaths of black people) that occurred at or near the specific locations and over time, the specific words have taken on different meanings in modern society. It's worth noting that many of the sites using the word "negro" originally used "nigger" before Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall called for the scrubbing of the word from all U.S. federal maps in 1963. (Three years later, though, he condoned the use of the word "Jap" on maps, so there's that. ☕️)
Certain landmarks, like Squaw Tits, have retained their horrible monickers mainly because of local tradition. The mountain that people are referring to is actually called Piewstewa Peak, but sometimes people have a difficult time letting go of their disgusting habits.
There are offensively-named geographic locations in every U.S. state. It should come as no surprise, then, that the U.S. Board on Geographic Names hears a handful of proposed name changes for various landmarks across the country each month.
“The board is a reactive body,” executive secretary Louis Yost explained to Vocativ. “Someone needs to receive a proposal to change a name and you have to make the argument, give your reasoning for why you want the name change and then we contact the local governing authority."
Assuming that the local governing body accepts a proposed name change, the new challenge becomes finding a new name. Places can only be named after people that've been dead for five years and had significant connections to the location in question. The board also prefers that new names stay relatively short.