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October 04, 2011

Vermont's Got An N-Word Problem, Too (Video)

Rick-perry-gov-and-evangelist If you think Vermont has nothing in common with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, think again. 

The whole flap about the "N-word" variant "n*****head" being painted on the entrance to Perry's family hunting compound has highlighted the fact that this term was used throughout the United States as a place name, including in Vermont.

Last night, "Daily Show" correspondent Wyatt Cenac ran down a list of northern states that are home to equally offensive place names (see video below); there are several in upstate New York.

He mentioned a Vermont pond in his list, which made me wonder: Is it still named that?

Not officially. In Marshfield, three geographic place names have been officially listed with a variant of the "N-word" — a brook, a pond and a mountaintop, according to an online search of the U.S. Board on Geographic Name's Geographic Names Information Service. All three have since been changed.

A quick Internet search finds that the brook has been renamed, though its more offensive name is still noted in several fishing guides. According to the University of Vermont's Center on Rural Studies website, a group petitioned to have the mountaintop and the pond names changed to Marshfield Ledge and Marshfield Pond in 1971. Since 1971, the pond has again been renamed — this time to Turtlehead Pond.

Wait? 1971?

You mean the state that abolished slavery in its constitution back in the late 1700s held onto racially-insensitive place names for nearly 200 years?

In his report on the Marshfield place names, former CRS director Fred Schmidt notes that changing the names to something less offensive was "controversial" and a state board in charge of the place names had to hold a public hearing.

"Not everyone agreed it should be changed. The original name might have come from an old Yankee word used to describe the medicinal weed black-eyed Susan," noted Schmidt in his synopsis. "Marshfield resident Hap Hayward said he thought the name described a tall grass-covered termite hill found near ponds and swampy areas. Hayward, who has lived in Marshfield since 1930 said he had no objection to the changing of the name. 'It didn't make much difference to me,' he said. 'They left the pond in the same place.' "

Schmidt concluded: "Parenthetically one might add, racism is alive and strong in rural — and urban America."

Indeed. Just ask the Abenaki.

Here's Cenac's report. Worth a watch.


'It didn't make much difference to me,' he said. 'They left the pond in the same place.'

That's the most Vermont response ever. I love it.

agreed. vermonters as well as our ponds haven't changed. the rest is rhetoric.

"Indeed. Just ask the Abenaki."

Oh for God's sake. Why did you have to throw that in? That was a gratuitous line. Vermont isn't "racist" just because there are people in Vermont who claim to be descended from Native Americans.

I am a member of the Vermont State Library Board, and we have the official responsibility for geographic naming in Vermont. Recently, a representative of the USGS briefed us on the agency's naming protocol and its move to eliminate derogatory names. During our discussion, we learned that New Hampshire just changed the name of a pond. For years, it was called "Jew Pond." Based on research I have been doing, I learned that folks in New Hampshire named this pond after a local resort owner, who was Jewish.

You might ask: What's in a name? Well, in the case of the formerly called "Jew Pond", it is emblematic of a not-so-old New England tradition of anti-semitism, from which Vermont was not immune. Resort hotels often subtly -- and in some cases overtly -- advertized their inhospitable stance toward Jews. There truly was "no room at the inn." In 1952, responding to criticism of this practice in Vermont, the Vermont Hotel Association reportedly denied that such discrimination was taking place, stating that any discrimination "is based on congeniality rather than on religion or race." (Source: JTA Daily News Bulletin, September 3, 1952) I don't know about you, but that does not make me feel any better.

Words only have the power that society gives them. Too bad the public gets so riled up over trivial things.

I'm sure you can find a cracker pond somewhere, or Honkey road...

People need to shrug it off and get over it. You can not get past racism if we continue to give certain words, groups etc special power/laws.

There are several street names throughout the state that used to contain the "n-word" or other racist names. Just goes to show that even our progressive little state wasn't immune to racial bias back in the day; sad but true.

The effort by a small group of insane people a few years ago to force Champlain Valley Union High School to get rid of the name "Crusaders" was one of the worst examples of political correctness run amok -- and of people caving in to meaningless political correctness in agreeing to ditch the name -- that one could possibly imagine.

Yeah, it's always the other people who should "get over it." C'mon, if words really have no power, why the reluctance to change them? Why hang onto old, outmoded words and symbols? Precisely because they DO have power. And if they offend or marginalize some people, then they should be changed and we should get on with our lives.

BTW, according to Google Maps, Vermont is blissfully free of Cracker Ponds or Honky Roads. But if you can find a White Guys Can't Jump Boulevard out there somewhere, by all means, feel free to start a petition drive to change it.

"C'mon, if words really have no power, why the reluctance to change them?"

Because by "marginalizing" the words you take away their power. If you give them special status you only serve to give them more power, promoting racism and divisivness, and perpetuate the classification of people based on some meaningless scheme.

If I were to get pissed off everytime someone called me a cracker it would mean something. It would give them another reason to use the term again. If you or I shrugged it off the person is pretty unlikely to bother repeating it.


There is also a "N-rock" in Quebec, in Saint-Armand, not far from the Vermont lines. The legend said it was an old slave cemetery, but historians recently debunked this theory.

For those who read French, informations here:

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