Twenty-first century politics are almost always more effective and efficient when they are based on well-organized coalition politics–i.e., the political efforts of several groups coordinated around mutual interests. The issue of California historical place names is ripe for such coalition politics between African Americans and California’s Native Americans, groups that have not usually worked together well in the state.

Along Interstate 15 between Barstow and Las Vegas, a tall peak hovers over the landscape with a still-current, strongly offensive name, “Squaw Tit.” Squaw is a pejorative term among most Native American groups in the U.S., including those in California. Denotatively, squaw has been defined as a slang term for a married Native American woman. Connotatively, however, it generally means female genitalia, and when referring to a person, a Native American “loose” woman, comparable to the B-word, or whore.

The site should have been renamed long before now, but has not been. It is still referred to that way on California maps, in spite of several community attempts at changing it, especially efforts by the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians. Similarly, rising some 3,000 feet upwards just east of the city of Victorville in the Mojave Desert are two stone bluffs still called Pickaninny Buttes. Also, near the city of Folsom in El Dorado County, lies the graveyard called N***** Hill. The nearby city it is attached to is now called Negro Hill.

The state NAACP has inquired into the Pickaninny Buttes case, and there is a group regularly meeting in Negro Hill, which still wants the historical record straightened out and the N***** Hill gravesites properly handled.

There are still thousands of site names in the USA, and several hundred in California, that fit the description of offensive to certain ethnic groups, in spite of the common national database of over 2.2 million place names. By now, scrubbing such irritants should not still be a problem, but it is, including in California, where there are over 750 known examples like Pickaninny Bluffs, Squaw Tit, and N***** Hill.

Within the continuing cultural wars that batter our children and ourselves daily, this is a battle that should have been won decisively years ago. California Native Americans, African Americans, and even Hispanic citizens have a common interest in eradicating or at least name-changing site monikers like N***** Creek and Wetback Bank in their home state, and this column strongly advocates such united action now.

At least nine states currently have on-going projects to scrub their state site names clean of such titles, including New Mexico, Michigan, Washington, Maine, Minnesota, Florida, South Dakota, North Carolina and Tennessee. California has no such project at this moment, but clearly needs one.

The issue is complicated by the involvement of both federal and state governments. There is a part of the U.S. Geologic Survey office called the Board on U.S. Geographic Names. That board makes decisions on changing offensive site names on official U.S. maps. However, its definitions of what is and is not offensive often clash with local residents. Since former Interior Secretary Stuart Udall’s decisions in 1963 and 1966 to ban “n*****” and “Jap” as site names anywhere in the U.S., the board has basically stuck only to that standard. “Negro” is not recognized by the board as an offensive name, and thus far, neither is “Pickaninny,” “Redskins” or “squaw.” There is also a “Black Sambo” mine still in California that has not rankled enough folks to get up a viable protest.

This is certainly a place for an organized coalition group to teach both federal and state officials some valuable cultural lessons. Let’s get something moving.

Editor’s note: We at Our Weekly find the use of the n-word so abhorrent and freighted with negative meaning that we refuse to use it in the newspaper, whether in quotes or not. Therefore, we have replaced some of the letters with stars. Most readers, we are confident, will understand what is meant.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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