A Madison group is looking to return a local waterway to its former name.
A committee of the Madison Equality Project (MEP) is pursuing the renaming of Madison County’s Mulatto Run due to the derogatory and offensive nature of the word “mulatto.” The term refers to a person of mixed race.
“The Madison Equality Project thinks the name doesn’t belong in Madison anymore,” committee member Becky Thompson said.
The MEP is a grassroots campaign to bring people together to dismantle systemic racism and promote equal opportunity for everyone who lives and works in Madison County. Since its creation this summer, the group has worked on numerous items including a virtual town hall and the name change of Mulatto Run.
According to land records, the creek was originally named Pass Run, but was changed to Mulatto Run in approximately 1842. It’s unknown why the name was changed. However, the creek isn’t alone in its naming. According to the United States Geological Survey, 10 other geographic features in the country contain the word “mulatto” including Mulatto Bayou, a bay in Santa Rosa, FL and Mulatto Branch, a stream in North Carolina.
It also wouldn’t be the first geographic feature to be renamed in Madison County due to its derogatory word choice. In February 2017, the Board of Geographic Names (BGN) approved the renaming of a two-mile long creek near White Oak Canyon, changing its name to Tims River. The creek had been referred to as Negro Run since 1963 when a then more derogatory name was softened under an order from the Secretary of the Interior. Because the creek was on federal land, the renaming process took years, beginning with a letter sent to the National Park Service in November 2015. Through the long process, Tims River was found to be the name of the creek on an 18th century deed and was ultimately approved by the BGN.
Thompson said that process is being used as a blueprint for the renaming of Mulatto Run. Although not on federal land, the renaming process will still be a long one. The BGN requires a compelling reason for changing the name of a natural feature and will consider proposals submitted to change names that are derogatory or offensive. The BGN asks that those proposing a name change make every effort to research the history of the existing name and provide a replacement that retains its history or geography. Previous historical names are preferred and local opinions should be solicited. The process takes at least six months and the BGN makes decisions only after receiving recommendations from local governments, the State Names Authority and appropriate land management agencies.
So far the committee, which consists of Thompson along with Mariel Lewis and Mary Grogan, has verified the Pass Run name with Madison County Historical Society President Max Lacy and James Madison University Professor Carol Nash. Nash was instrumental in researching the Tims River name. The committee asked the Madison County Board of Supervisors for permission to begin contacting additional people for letters of support in favor of the name change. The official paperwork won’t be completed until after the research and input process has finished.
“Personally, I’m in favor of cutting them loose and letting them do the work,” supervisor Kevin McGhee said.
“It’s a healthy process to reach out and contact folks [and] have a public hearing,” county administrator Jack Hobbs added.
The committee will draft a letter that will be sent to neighboring landowners near the creek to garner input. The letter will go through the county office. The committee will appear back before the board of supervisors for final approval once the application is ready to be submitted.