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Negro Mountain - name change proposed, 1994

Negro Mountain - name change Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information


Board Opposes Name Change For Negro Mountain

The Garrett County Board of Commissioners voiced their opposition this week to a proposed name change for Negro Mountain.

The commissioners' statement was in response to a letter they received this spring from the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The letter stated that a new name, "Black Hero Mountain," had been proposed for Negro Mountain. The letter also requested the opinion of the county on such a name change.

Roger I. Payne, executive secretary of the USBGN, a division of the U.S. Geological Survey, headquartered in Reston, Va., stated in his letter to the commissioners that Negro Mountain was reportedly named after Colonel Thomas Cresap's black servant, named Goliah, who was killed by Native Americans in 1756.

According to Payne’s letter, "The proponent of the name change proposal feels that ‘to give such a generic name [Negro Mountain] to honor a brave man is an insult.' He proposes to change the name to Black Hero Mountain to honor the 13 black Medal of Honor heroes from Pennsylvania and Maryland."

Payne, who did not identify the person or group who had suggested the name change, went on ask if the county supports the new name.

County Administrator Robert Fousek drafted a reply to the USBGN this week on behalf of the commissioners. In it he remarked, "During almost two and a half centuries of nomenclature usage, Negro Mountain has become ingrained in the fabric of our local culture, literature, place descriptions, road names, etc."

"Any change would meet with considerable resistance, not to mention the expense of road and address changes on county roads with Negro Mountain in them," he stated.

Fousek concluded by stating that the commissioners would not support the name change. He also remarked that according to local tradition, Cresap's servant was named Nemesis' rather than Goliah.

Negro Mountain has banks in Somerset County, Pa., as well as eastern Garrett County.

Name won't change

Used with permission of The Associated Press © 2007 All Rights Reserved.

Printed in the Cumberland News

September 20, 1994
KEYERS RIDGE — It might not be politically correct, but Negro Mountain's name will stay the same.

The 30-mile ridge that runs through Garrett County, Md., and Somerset County, Pa., was named in the 1700s in honor of a black servant who lost his life there. The servant was named Goliah in some historical accounts, and Nemesis in others.

"They named it Negro Mountain because they didn't know who it was," said Wes Slusher, a retired steelworker from McKeesport, Pa., who proposed to change the name to Black Hero Mountain in 1991.

"I just didn't like the name. It was a mistake to name it that then. Why not correct it now?

"They should have named it after the man. There is no such a thing as White Man's Mountain, or Redman's Mountain," he said.

After soliciting public comment, however, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names voted Sept. 8 against the change.

The board was convinced that the name was meant to honor one individual, said Roger L. Payne, executive secretary for the board. The name has been in local use since the mid-18th century and much of the history and geography of the region is associated with the mountain and its name, he said.

Every year, the board reviews 300 to 400 proposals to change the name of natural features, such as lakes and mountains.

During the past 30 years, people have proposed 31 name changes involving the word "negro," Payne said. In 1979, for example, the names of seven lakes and one stream in Maine were changed to eliminate the word "negro." In 1970, Negro Valley in Riverside County, Calif., was changed to Butterfield Valley.

"In almost every case, the names were changed," Payne said. "This Negro Mountain — it's a big exception. But the board's vote was based on overwhelming opposition to changing it."

According to legend, Capt. Andrew Friend's unnamed black servant was wounded while trying to fight Indians attacking Friend's hunting party. Friend and a companion moved the servant to dense underbrush and stayed with him through the night. The servant died the following morning. From then on the mountain where he died was called Negro Mountain.

In another historical account, the black man was a servant to Col. Thomas Cresap, a frontiersman.

Warren E. Groves, assistant manager of Savage River State Forest, said he opposed the name change because he thought Cresap named the mountain in honor of his valued black scout.

"Although the term 'Negro' is not politically correct by current standards, at the time it was used in naming this mountain it was truly used in a sense of honor toward the man and the people of his race," Groves said-

Maryland State Archivist Edward Papenfuse also opposed the change.

"If anything, there should be a plaque on Negro Mountain explaining the origin of the name," Papenfuse said. "It reflects a 18th century sensitivity to the important contribution African-Americans made that is rarefy so publicly demonstrated."

Garrett County Commissioners argued that during nearly two and a half centuries, Negro Mountain has been ingrained into the fabric of the local community. Changing the name also would mean expensive road and address changes, the commissioners said.

Brent Glass, executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, said the commission does not believe the word "negro" was derogatory in this context.

"This word has a long and distinguished history and has continued to be used by no less an organization than the United Negro College Fund," Glass said. "If the name were changed to Black Hero Mountain, the commemoration of this man would be lost" .


The Republican, Garrett County

The Department of the Interior/U.S. Geological Survey Feature Detail Report for: Negro Mountain and a summary of the official decision by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names which was made on September 8, 1994 and retained the name, "Negro Mountain", can be seen at Geographic Names Information System - Negro Mountain

An article entitled, "Negro Mountain Keeps Name; Support for Identity Prompts Board to Deny Sign Change" appeared in the Washington Post on February 2, 1995. The article pertained to the hearing which took place before the U.S. Board on Geographic Names which resulted in the mountain retaining its name. The article stated that although a Pennsylvania man voiced objection to the name "Negro", numerous individuals including private citizens, officials, and historians spoke in support of the name. Included among these was the Maryland State Archivist, Edward Papenfuse, who provided a history of how the mountain received its name and went on to state the name Negro Mountain "reflects an 18th century sensitivity to the important contribution African Americans made that is rarely so publicly demonstrated."

A 74 year old local African-American historian from Hagerstown, Maryland, Marguerite Doleman was quoted as saying:
"You know, when I was a young girl I used to see that name, Negro Mountain, when I was driving up there with my daddy. It bothered me somewhat, but then it raised the question in my mind: What Negro? If it had been named Nemesis Mountain, I probably wouldn't have questioned it."

Doleman further stated said it was important to keep the name of the mountain as it is so others would learn its history and that of Nemesis, the African-American for whom it is named. The Board agreed and "were able to determine that it [the name Negro Mountain] had been used historically." The article related that Marguerite Doleman expressed delight the name Negro Mountain had been retained.

(Marguerite Doleman opened a black history museum in her home in Hagerstown in 1974. See The Doleman Black Heritage Museum )


Collection Location:
Allegany County, Maryland

African Americans, History; Allegany County (Md.), History.

Allegany County (Md.), 1890-2008

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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