What’s in a Name?

Posted on July 8, 2020

jeff davis county sign

Right Now with Nick Smith (Linkedin/Twitter)

What I’m watching: Trigger Warning with Killer Mike 
What I’m listening to: Run The Jewels — RTJ4

If you’re interested in becoming a better anti-racist, Killer Mike is a great, outside-the-box (read: hilarious and NSFW) resource.

If you’re not … now might be a good time to stop reading.

Let’s start at the beginning. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I’m from Kentucky. (How else does someone even become a Kentucky football fan?) I also left Kentucky after 9/11 to join the US Navy. 

So I was upset to learn recently that Kentucky, despite not being part of the Confederacy during the Civil War, is one of 13 states that have counties named for Confederate historical figures — in fact, per this article it’s the only state not to secede and still have one of these. 

64 Counties in the US are named for Confederate figures
As an aside, it’s Lee County, KY, which does not make sense. If we’re going to have one, CSA President Jefferson Davis was actually from Kentucky. It’s not better, but at least it makes sense. I get that Kentucky already had Jefferson County and Daviess County in 1870, but jeez, racists, get it together.

Anyway, just as “the Confederate flag” (in quotes because Stars & Bars ain’t even the real flag lol) should be banned from representing places in the US, so should these. Rename them all. The Confederates fought against the United States, and killed American soldiers, sailors, marines, and civilians. 

As an added bonus, it doesn’t even have to be as hard as you might think.

Have you heard the story of King County, Washington? It was founded in 1852, named King County, in honor of slave owner William King. Then, in 1986, it was renamed King County by the County Council, in honor of Martin Luther King. Easy peasy. It took until 2005 to become “official” as only the state can technically charter a county in Washington. But the change itself was instant and painless.

Were there some people unhappy about it? Sure, whatever. Did it take 20 years? Of course. It was pre-internet local government. But did they do it anyway? Yes.

And why not? Literally, what’s lost? If you believe the “opposition” letters, the biggest concern was that a new logo would cost money to make and apply to stationery and uniforms. Big deal. Sometimes it costs a little money to own up to your mistakes. 

So in the ELGL spirit of promoting solutions instead of problems let’s suggest some new names, shall we? Because some of them are just total slam-dunks:

Name Named For Rename For Why?
Reagan County, TX CSA General Ronald Reagan President. See? This is easy!
Hale County, AL CSA Lieutenant Colonel 1LT Nathan Hale American Revolutionary War Hero, captured & killed by the British in 1776
Reeves County, TX CSA Colonel CPO Thomas J Reeves KIA during the attack on Pearl Harbor, MOH recipient
Jackson County, OK CSA General CAPT Arthur J Jackson MOH recipient for actions as a Private First Class during WWII
Forrest County, MS CSA General BG Nathan Bedford Forrest III First US General KIA in Europe during WWII, didn’t found the Klan
Hampton County, SC CSA General CAPT Kimberly Hampton Iraq vet, first US female pilot shot down & killed hostile fire
Faulkner County, AR CSA Colonel William Faulkner Celebrated American writer & Southerner, Nobel Laureate

Some of them are a little more oblique, but still, I think are good suggestions. Improvements, at the very least:

Name Named For Rename For Why?
Gray County, TX CSA Judge & Politician Horace Gray US Supreme Court Justice who believed politicians should not be judges and vice versa
Scurry County, TX CSA General Briana Scurry Gave up only 3 goals(!) for the USWNT en route to the 1999 Women’s World Cup championship — deserves at least a county
Tom Green County, TX CSA General Tom Green “Daddy Would You Like Some Sausage?” was hilarious, the Civil War was just macabre
Beauregard Parish, LA CSA General Beauregard the Muppet As far as I can tell, no Muppet has ever killed or enslaved another Muppet, let alone a human of any race
Lee County, AL, AR, FL, KY, MS, SC & TX The biggest traitor of them all Anyone. Harper Lee. Geddy Lee. Bruce Lee. Lee Majors. Leelee Sobieski. Why not? There are enough Lees to go around and they’re all better Americans than this one.

I grant this: some of them are legitimately problematic. Wheeler County, TX is named for a CSA General who rejoined the US Army in the 1890s. Do you rename that? I don’t know. Is naming places after military leaders itself problematic regardless of their alignments? Also a great question! Plus, there are scores of cities and towns and unincorporated areas and buildings with Confederacy-adjacent names, aren’t there? Of course! The Army installations named for them baffle the hell out of me. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

But one thing is for certain: you don’t need a Robert E Lee or Jefferson Davis County anywhere. Least of all in the nation that defeated them.

As local government professionals, let’s get rid of them & urge our colleagues to follow suit.

Beauregard the Muppet
Pictured: Beauregard the Muppet. Obvi. I’d live in that county.


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