Our N-Word Mountains

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Tue, Feb 24, 2009 at 1:29 PM

Today's L.A. Times reports that "authorities" have decided to rebrand Malibu's Negrohead Mountain with a more palatable designation. (No, not African American Dome.) The idea is to rename the 2,000-plus-foot peak for the name of its original inspiration, John Ballard. Ballard was a former slave who settled in L.A. in 1859, eventually moving his family onto hundreds of acres in the Santa Monica Mountains.

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The Times piece, by Bob Pool, provides some interesting history to an all but forgotten Malibu legend while also noting, in a gentlemanly way, that the U.S. Geological Survey's designation for the mountain "is a refinement of the slur then used by pioneers." In other words, the USGS calls the peak Negrohead Mountain instead of the one pcked by locals 120 years ago -- Niggerhead Mountain. That name was one of many geographic slurs that didn't sound so bad when they were first handed out. Even today San Bernardino is home to Pickaninny Buttes, as well as Negro Butte -- which is a "modern" euphemism for its less-refined birth name.

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