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Utah News

Confederate Flag Issue Revives Negro Bill Canyon Name Debate

The recent controversy over the Confederate flag has prompted some Moab residents to again call for the renaming of Negro Bill Canyon. 

Two years ago, Louis Williams, a long-time Moab resident, was unable to convince the county government, or the historical commission, to support a name change for Negro Bill Canyon. Williams, who is black, proposed “Granstaff Canyon,” because the canyon was named in honor of William Granstaff, an 1870s rancher who was prominent in his own right. Even the NAACP declined to support the change, declaring that the name was “an important reminder of black history.” Since then, Moab has voted in a more progressive county council, which will revive the issue at a July 7th meeting. Council member Mary McGann is making the proposal.

"The Confederate flag, they’re now talking about trying to remove from places, creates emotion. People see it and it creates some type of feeling in them, good or bad, and the same is with the word," McGann said. "And with the word Negro, what it symbolizes for many, many people, is when the Africans were put into slavery. Also because I think the nation as a whole right now is looking at symbols. And what do symbols mean? Are they important? Yes. They are."

McGann says she’s received many emails, almost all supportive of the name change, and many local businesses support it too.

"You know, you talk to guides, you talk to people in the bike shop, they’re very uncomfortable," McGann said. "And they’re really uncomfortable because often times they get a pretty negative reaction from out-of-towners, when they say, how can you have such a name, you know, in such a public place?"

No local decisions will be binding. If there is enough support, a petition would go to the Board of Names, a division of the USGS, to eliminate “Negro Bill” from the maps.