Many escaped slaves had to swim through treacherous water to reach freedom (Photo Credit: Jeremy Sadoff/Charisma).
Runaway Negro Creek in Georgia Renamed to Freedom Creek in Georgia
Slavery and racism became so embedded in the South that the state of Georgia actually named a body of water, Runaway Negro Creek.
Although it took centuries to rename, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names has officially renamed Runaway Negro Creek, Freedom Creek in Savannah, Ga.
“We need to replace the antiquated symbol with one that is more representative of the events of the 1800s,” said Sen. Lester Jackson (D-District 2). “We will be redefining history by shining a light on the events that transpired at Freedom Creek and honor the movement of freedom.”
Area residents had lobbied to get the name changed because many viewed the name as culturally insensitive.
Sen, Jackson sponsored legislation to get the name changed last year, which Georgia lawmakers approved and Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law.
However, the deal was not consummated until the final vote from the Board.
The process for the name change began in January, and in April the U.S. Board of Geographic Names gave the name change final approval.
Freedom Creek is located along the Skidway Island State Park border.
“The name has been updated in the Board’s official geographic names database, and future editions of federal maps will reflect the change,” explained Jennifer Runyon, geographer and board research staffer.
The name Runaway Negro Creek received its name because many escaped slaves from Mondena Plantation travelled the creek during the Civil War to escape to freedom.
Many of the escaped slaves swam to freedom by crossing Runaway Negro Creek.
Jackson said the journey was treacherous for slaves seeking freedom.
“I think the [new] name reflects what actually happened,” Jackson said. “The enslaved people were not running away from anything, but they were in search of (freedom).”
The creek was a four-mile journey with venomous snakes, alligators and rising tides.
Even some slaves who could not swim attempted to reach freedom by crossing Runaway Negro Creek.
The slaves who successfully crossed the body of water still faced obstacles in getting to Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island or Hilton Head.
Escaped slaves would use Runaway Negro Creek to get to the Atlantic Coast islands, which were not controlled by the Confederacy.
“This name change is certainly welcome news,” said U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.—1st District). “The previous name has no place in our society. I am very glad our community came together at the local, state and federal levels to make this happen.”
Previously, Carter sent a letter to the executive secretary of the U.S. Board of Geographic Names in 2018 to draw attention to the matter.
A portion of the resolution reads, “the name of such creek should be changed to reflect this state’s commitment to freedom and the inalienable rights of the men and women who pursue it.”
On social media, many people seemed shocked that a name like Runaway Negro Creek still existed in 2019.
Twitter user Matt R (@Hofinator10) tweeted, “WTF Georgia. ‘Runaway Negro Creek, a small waterway on the state’s Skidway Island near Savannah, has been officially renamed Freedom Creek.’ It took until 2019 for this…”
On Twitter, Philip Lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) tweeted, “What year is it.”
Twitter user Davis Showell (@DavisShowell) said, “The fact that ‘Runaway Negro Creek’ was a thing until now shows how far our country still has to go.”
Over the last few years, established local, state and national institutions and organizations have changed names and nicknames that had racial undertones.
Universities like St. John’s University and Syracuse University changed their nicknames because many found those nicknames offensive to Native Americans.
St. John’s University changed their nickname from Redmen to Red Storm.
Likewise, Syracuse University changed their nickname from Orangemen to Orange.
Furthermore, schools across the country like John Reagan High School in Houston have changed their name because of their ties to Confederate leaders and the Confederacy.
Houston’s Reagan High School is now known as Heights High School, named after The Heights neighborhood in which the school is located.
Across the country, monuments to Confederate leaders have been removed, which led to the deadly 2017 Unite the Right March in Charlottesville, Va.
In Marin County, Calif., the local school district has agreed to change its name from Dixie School District to a new moniker to be determined before next fall.
The name Dixie dates back to the Civil War and parents and students have complained about the name for years.
However, different groups disagree about the origin of the name, Dixie School District.
The group Change the Name asserts that the name Dixie came about as a dare by Marin County settler James Miller to see if the name could rile up the Union soldiers.
On the other hand, the We are Dixie campaign asserts that the name Dixie was chosen to honor the Dixie family, and their 19th century relative Mary Dixie, a member of the Miowok tribe.
On Tuesday, the board voted 3-1 to change the district name, and the name Dixie Elementary School by Aug. 22 provided that no district funds are used and a community committee presents the board with acceptable names.
Estimates show that a name change would cost $40,000.
However, outside groups have pledged to fund the name change.
That offer still does not sit well with some board members.
“I refused to be bullied, pressured, or threatened into making a decision for our community,” said school board President Brad Honsberger.
Students spoke at the board meeting, some waving signs that said, “Dixie is Racist.”