Jim Crow is found in Wahkiakum County
April 14, 2016
That's what we are at The Eagle.
Last fall, we decided to do a story about the African-American man who lived at Brookfield at the end of the 19th Century. Jim Crow Point and Jim Crow Creek were named after him; there may even be Jim Crow Hill.
The lore is that there was a popular song, "Jump Jim Crow," which caricatured African Americans, and the man, Jim Saules, sang it as a way of mocking the song and Jim Crow.
Jim Crow, of course, refers to laws adopted in states of the Confederacy to enforce segregation of African Americans, keeping them from interacting with white society in any but the most subservient roles and condoning harsh treatment, including lynching.
While Jim Crow laws ended in 1965, segregation and discrimination against African Americans has continued in various forms, and the term has come to symbolize racist mistreatment of them. Thus, Jim Crow is a loaded term.
We had intended to do the story and then see if the state Board of Geographic Names might want to consider changing the name. However, the story list is long, and without close local sources, it languished on the list. On Tuesday this week, there in the Daily News was the story written by Hayat Norimine.
Nobody in the newspaper business likes to be scooped, but as they say, "Well, there it is."
Norimine quoted state Senator Pramila Jayapal, a Seattle Democrat who has been reviewing geographic names across the state and seeking changes to those that could be considered racist. Jim Crow Point caught her eye.
Wahkiakum County Commissioner Dan Cothren commented April 5 that Sen. Jayapal had telephoned him to talk about the situation. Cothren wasn't interested changing the name, he said; the name honors Saules and has no local racist connotations.
"It (the name) is part of our heritage," he said April 5. And people who want to enforce political correctness should "get a life."
On April 12 after the story appeared, Cothren wanted to clarify his comments.
Cothren said he understood that the name might be offensive in some circles. He said he would have a problem if the name were created as a racist reference to Saules. However, there are many crows in the area, he said, so it's quite possible the name came from them.
"I don't know," Cothren said. "I think it was established because of the birds that were there.
"I grew up with the name; I can relate to it.
"I just don't like it that folks from the urban setting telling us from the rural setting what to do.
"When does it end?"
Commissioner Blair Brady concurred.
"If you really want to change the name, pony up the $5,000 and put it on the ballot for the people to vote," he said. "If this senator doesn't have enough work to do, maybe she should get another job."
Well, there it is.
I'm sure there are many people who concur with the commissioners' dislike of political correctness. And there are many local residents who don't associate racial connotations with the name, which is part of county history.
Let it be, they would say.
Many of us don't have school classes in African American Studies. We have a vague understanding of the connotations of the name and what impact it would have on an African American who has experienced the contemporary manifestation of Jim Crow. For if you haven't lived discrimination, it's hard to understand its constant impact on a person.
"There it is," they might say. "This county and its residents honor the systematic, discriminatory segregation that ruled The South after the Civil War."
That's not the image I want Wahkiakum County to project, and that's why I favor changing the name.
Let's call it Jim Saules Creek and Jim Saules Point in honor of a unique pioneer.
In my lifetime, the county has had some other name changes. We once had "Jap Island" and "Nigger Island" off the shores of Puget Island, and changing those names was a welcome move to change the heritage we will leave for future generations.
Getting rid of Jim Crow in Wahkiakum County would be another welcome move to define our heritage.
Well, there it is.