News

Pa. can't easily change the name of Negro Mountain. Here's why.

Written by Rick Lee/The York Daily Record | Sep 21, 2017 2:22 PM
Negro-Mountain.jpg

Top of Negro Mountain along US 40, 1938. (Photo: Photo by Lois Reed)

Lawmaker says mountain's name is no longer acceptable

(Undated) -- It's an attention grabber, for sure. Enough so that people pull over along the highway and take pictures of the roadside sign.

Negro Mountain.

Negro Mountain is about a seven-hour drive west of Rep. Rosita Youngblood's home office in the Philadelphia district she represents.

That hasn't stopped her from calling for renaming the mountain ridge that runs from Somerset County in southwestern Pennsylvania into Maryland.

There are some questionably-named places around the state. One state representative has repeatedly introduced legislation to change the controversial name of a mountain in Somerset County. Rick Lee and Sean Heisey, York Daily Record

The traditional story behind the naming of Negro Mountain is that it is the spot where a black frontiersman or body servant known to history only as Nemisis was killed during a skirmish between hunters or explorers and native Americans in 1756.

Nemisis was reported to have fought bravely alongside his white companions before being fatally wounded.

To honor Nemisis, the mountain was dubbed Negro Mountain.

Why it was not named Mount Nemisis is unknown.

But nearby Mount Davis, the tallest peak in the Negro Mountain ridge at an elevation of 3,213 feet, was named for a Civil War veteran and settler.

Negro gradually became an unacceptable term in the American lexicon, and, following the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, came to be considered by some as derogatory.

According to U.S. Board of Geographic Names documents, requests to rename the mountain date back at least to 1994, the first year Youngblood was in office and 13 years before it was brought to her attention.

That year, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names rejected an attempt to rename the mountain as Black Hero Mountain to honor Nemisis and 13 other African-Americans from Pennsylvania and Maryland who received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

That application was rejected, according to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, because of opposition from:

  • The local governments of Somerset County and Garrett County, Md.
  • The Pennsylvania State Geographic Names Authority
  • The Maryland State Archives
  • The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources
  • The managements of Savage River State Forest and the Deep Creek Lake Recreation Area.

Reasons offered for that opposition included: the belief that the name was bestowed as an honor; historic usage of the name; and the region's geography being associated with the name.

Bill Thomas, Youngblood's executive director, explained that the most recent attempt to rename Negro Mountain -- House Bill 1767 -- does not center on the mountain itself.

Thomas said that process to rename any site now is "extremely burdensome." So, Youngblood is calling for a change in that process.

Instead of relying on the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which does not actively look for potentially offensively named areas, Youngblood's bill would establish Pennsylvania's own Commonwealth Advisory Board on Geographic Names.

The board would identify geographic sites within the commonwealth and would assist the state and county governments, along with grassroot organizations and concerned private citizens, "in the burdensome process of proposing changes to geographic location names ..."

Youngblood's bill currently is before the House state government committee.

Thomas said Youngblood also intends to submit her annual resolution to the House to urge the federal government to change the name of Negro Mountain. Youngblood's first such resolution to the House was submitted in 2007.

Despite bipartisan support from fellow lawmakers, including Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover, Youngblood's annual resolution has met with no success.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

Published in News

Tagged under , , , , , , , ,

back to top

Give Now

Estate Planning

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Smart Talk

National Edward R. Murrow Awards

DuPont Columbia Awards

Support Local Journalism

Latest News from NPR

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »