SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Board of Geographic Names voted unanimously Thursday to change the name of Negro Bill Canyon to Grandstaff Canyon in a nod to local support for eliminating the racially offensive moniker.
The canyon, a popular recreation area outside Moab, was named after William Grandstaff, a black cowboy who ran cattle in the area in the 1870s.
Mary McGann, a Grand County Council member who fought for the change, praised the board's decision.
"I am very pleased with what the board decided to do," she said. "It was the right thing."
In 2016, the Bureau of Land Management changed out the Negro Bill Trailhead sign along the Colorado River corridor on state Route 128 north of Moab to signal its official support for a name change.
The Grand County Council has taken up the issue multiple times over the years, and it has prompted disagreement among local leaders, racial advocacy groups and residents.
The council voted 4-3 in August 2015 to keep the name of the canyon. A similar effort to change the name was defeated in 2013. Early this year, the council came out in favor of a name change.
In 2001, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names voted against the change after local opposition, and earlier this year, the Utah Committee on Geographic Names said a lack of consensus from minority groups led to its decision to retain the name.
The Utah Martin Luther King Jr. Commission also initially supported the name change but did not take an official position after the vote by the Utah committee.
The local NAACP office was opposed to the change, asserting the word "Negro" is still used in official groups' names — such as the National Council of Negro Women — and its elimination sanitizes history.
But McGann said it was a name that needed to go. During her fight over the issue, she said it became clear to her how much resentment the proposal caused.
"People don't realize the anger it created. I was treated horribly and to me that shows the name symbolized more than just a name — that there was some racism behind it. We change the name of things all the time, but this created some vile reaction. In many ways, it made me think it was more important than not to change it."
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