Town, state jockey over renaming racialized waterway name

Town, State Jockey Over Renaming Racialized Waterway Name

In this June, 2014 photo, Negro Brook flows through Townshend State Park in Townshend, Vt. The Vermont town is divided about whether and what to rename the brook that has an outdated, racialized name. A state agency may ultimately make the decision.

TOWNSHEND, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont town is divided about renaming a brook that has an outdated, racialized name, though a state agency may ultimately make the decision.

The Vermont Board of Libraries is meeting Thursday to respond to a petition asking for the renaming of Negro Brook, which is located in Townshend State Park, the Brattleboro Reformer reported.

Residents of Burlington first asked for the name to be changed two years ago. One of them, Evan Litwin, said the brook is the only known United States Geological Survey natural feature in Vermont that continues to have a race-based name.

Steffen Gillom, president of the Windham County NAACP, supports renaming the brook after Susanna Toby, a Black woman who was an early settler of the town.

“No one likes it,” Gillom said of the brook’s current name. “We definitely don’t like it. So it made sense to support the change and we thought the story of Susanna Toby was compelling, and it was powerful.”

Toby moved to the town in as early as 1810 and died there in 1855, according to Vermont independent historian Elise Guyette. Her husband, who was an enslaved Black person, fought in the Revolutionary War in the place of the son of the man who owned him.

A researcher with the Townshend Historical Society told the newspaper the group does not support naming the brook after Toby because town records indicated she did not live close to it.

The Board of Libraries has jurisdiction over changing the name of the brook because it is on state land, the newspaper reported, but a decision by the Townshend Select Board last week may delay any action.

At a meeting on June 8, the town’s Select Board voted to support renaming the brook after Toby, but also to bring the question before voters next March.

Bruce Post, chairman of the Board of Libraries, told the newspaper he hopes to make a decision on Thursday but said he did not know if the Select Board decision to allow voters to weigh in on the question would prevent them from doing so.