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Western Md. legislators defend mountain names

February 22, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Western Maryland legislators waited for their turn to speak on Tuesday as Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, at left, D-Baltimore City, urged a state Senate committee to pass her resolution to rename Negro and Polish mountains. The Western Maryland lawmakers are, from right: Sen. George C. Edwards, Del. Wendell R. Beitzel, Del. Kevin Kelly and Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr.
By Andrew Schotz, Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS — Western Maryland lawmakers Tuesday defended the names of Negro and Polish mountains, trying to torpedo a Baltimore City state senator's attempt to "fix" history.

The name battle has been a lively side issue in a legislative session dominated by budget issues and a same-sex marriage debate.

Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, D-Baltimore City, has proposed having a commission suggest new names for Negro Mountain in Garrett County and Polish Mountain in Allegany County.

Negro Mountain is said to be named after a black man called Nemesis. He was killed "while fighting Indians with Maryland frontiersman Thomas Cresap in the 1750s," according to an historical marker.

An 18th-century deed shows that Polish Mountain actually was Polished Mountain, an apparent reference to its shiny rocks. The name was shortened over the years and the pronunciation changed to Polish, as if connected to Poland.

Testifying before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Gladden said she's heard about Negro Mountain's background, but history needs "a correction."

However, delegates and senators representing Garrett and Allegany counties testified that the names are there for a reason and shouldn't be altered.

"We're talking about history here," Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said.

He said one alternate theory is that Negro Mountain was named after a black man called Goliath who was the sidekick of a white man named Andrew Friend.

Gladden and others have reported being startled and confused to see a road sign for Negro Mountain.

Edwards suggested adding a fuller explanation to the sign.

Del. Wendell R. Beitzel, R-Garrett, a longtime Negro Mountain resident, said local residents don't complain about the name. He recommended removing the road sign if it's sparking debate.

Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, stood firm. He wondered if other heritage-related names, such as Germantown, also should be changed.

He said the sign should stay because "the word 'Negro' makes the mind inquire," prompting curious visitors to learn the history.

Gladden, who is black, appeared to have support from two other committee members — Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City, the chairwoman, who is black, and Sen. Karen S. Montgomery, D-Montgomery, who is white.

Carter Conway said it makes more sense to name the mountain for Nemesis, rather than his race.

Montgomery agreed and wondered if Western Maryland legislators would be offended if "White Man's Mountain" were substituted for Mount Whitney.

Sen. Ronald C. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, a committee member, didn't speak during the hearing, but said beforehand, "I think we ought to get on to more serious business."

It's not clear what affect the resolution might have. Negro Mountain is in both Maryland and Pennsylvania, so the U.S. Board of Geographic Names oversees the name. In 1994, the board rejected a similar attempt to rename it, deciding the intent was to honor someone.

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