The "Negro" names in the Black Hills are on their way out.
Five Black Hills geographic features with offensive names will be renamed by the state, and officials are asking for the public's help to come up with more appropriate monikers.
The South Dakota Board on Geographic Names opened a 45-day public comment period Friday to change the names of “Negro Wool Ridge” and “Negro Canyon” near Wind Cave in Custer County.
The board also wants to scrub the names of “Negro Hill” and “Negro Gulch” near Tinton in Lawrence County and “Negro Creek” near Medicine Mountain in Pennington County.
June Hansen, a geographic names board member, said the features were named during a time period inhabited by early African-American settlers.
She said they are among the last in the state to be reviewed. Last week, several geographic features on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with names like "Squaw Humper" were renamed with Lakota names to get rid of the offensive labels.
For the name “Negro Creek,” Hansen said her research points to a prospector named Jackson, who is thought to have worked along the creek and is buried in its banks. She said little is known of the origin of other features.
The comment period closes June 1. Within the 45-day window, residents are urged to submit new names for the natural features by phone, email or mail.
“We are happy to get comments any way we can get them,” Hansen said.
The U.S. Board on Geographic Names dictates submitted names should center on local history, folklore, events or natural aspects of the area. Hansen said names cannot duplicate other geographic features in South Dakota or nearby states.
Hanson said personal names must be relevant to public interest, commemorating a person or family for historical reasons. A person being honored must have been dead for at least five years. The board will meet June 4 in Pierre to review submissions.
“The plan is we go through (submissions) at that meeting and eliminate the ones that don’t meet the criteria of the U.S. board,” Hansen said. “If we would get no recommendations, the next step is to do more research to come up with a name for the area. So far, that hasn’t happened to us.”
She said the most appropriate name for each feature will then be released to the public for an additional 30-day comment period.
“In essence, we give the public two chances to tell us what the features should be named,” Hansen said.
If the names are uncontested, the South Dakota Board on Geographic Names will submit them to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for final approval.
Hansen said after new names for the Black Hills locations are submitted for approval, only five offensive natural areas will remain for renaming.
Those areas include “Negro Creek” in Hawkins County, “Big Negro Draw” and “Little Negro Creek” in Jackson County, and “Squaw Lake” and “Moody Squaw Creek” in Marshall County.
The South Dakota board was tasked with renaming 38 racially charged landmarks in 2001. Since then, Hansen said, 20 areas have been renamed.
Hansen said new names for all offensive landmarks on the list are hoped to be submitted for final approval by the end of the year.