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Maine Legislature Considers Resolve To Replace Offensive Place Names Across The State

Rachel Talbot Ross
Robert F. Bukaty
State Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, watches the proceedings as the Maine Legislature works at the Augusta Civic Center, Wednesday, Dec 2, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.

A group of state officials, led by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, would be required to review all official place names in the state for offensive references, and recommend new names under a resolve considered by the legislature’s judiciary committee Thursday.

Democratic state Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross of Portland says despite laws passed in 1977 and 2001, there are still offensive place names in use across state government.

"[These names are] listed on a state-maintained registry, and I will add out of the five offensive names, three included the N-word," Ross says.

“There remain place names in Maine that are offensive," says Susan Stark, a professor at Bates College. "Some of these names were words common to use during the decades of Jim Crow segregation when lynchings of Black and brown people were publicly and frequently.”

Ross is sponsoring a resolve that would require the to state try again. The review panel would include representatives of several agencies including the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations. Once a place name is identified as offensive, the group will recommend a new name for the legislature to consider. There was no testimony in opposition to the measure.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.