Despite opposition from the Salt Lake City office of the NAACP, some local residents who want to rename Negro Bill Canyon vow to continue their fight against what they consider a racially charged name.
Louis Williams of Moab, who has researched the history of William Grandstaff through records in Utah and Colorado, says proponents’ next goal is to seek Grand County Council support. He expressed disappointment in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s position.
Several media outlets reported that the Utah office of NAACP rejects the attempt to change the name to William Grandstaff Canyon. Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake City office, told the Associated Press she opposes changing the name because the history of the canyon would be lost. Williams did not return repeated calls from The Times-Independent.
“I think the NAACP is a little behind the times,” said Louis Williams, who also has been unable to get a reply from the NAACP. “They don’t understand that we have a new generation coming up and this generation is looking for inclusiveness. The way this label is stuck on people separates us.”
Louis Williams noted that “Negro” is included in the name of 757 sites in the U.S. He said many communities across the country are in the process of installing new names, including Malibu, Calif., and Central City, Colo.
“We need to start learning about each other, and the way we do that is to expose things like Mr. Grandstaff’s name being wrongly applied,” he said. “His history has been covered up.”
The Grand County Council rejected a name change in 1999, as did the Utah NAACP. Council chairman Gene Ciarus said Wednesday he won’t support the idea if it comes before the council again.
“He [Louis Williams] won’t get it from me,” Ciarus said, emphasizing he does not speak for the entire council. “It’s a traditional name. There’s a history behind that name and it is not derogatory. That is part of the history here. There is a point where this gets ridiculous.”
However, Williams says his research has found no documents in which Grandstaff signed his name as “Negro Bill” or referred to himself that way. Nor did others make that reference in newspaper articles or other documents, Williams said.
“There has been a legend claim in this town that William Grandstaff called himself that name, but there is no record of that,” Williams said during an interview this week.
He added that the NAACP has missed the point of the proposed name change, which is to truly reflect what Grandstaff was called during his life. While many people find the word offensive, he said, the larger issue is to clear up an historical misperception.
Williams said he isn’t surprised the NAACP has taken its position because it also opposed the change in 1999.
“I have tried to get in touch with Jeanetta Williams and have gotten no response,” he said. “I am trying to understand how they’ve come up with their decision-making, but I haven’t been able to.”