Planning Board approves renaming Coon Hunt Court

The Howard County Planning Board Thursday unanimously approved renaming Coon Hunt Court, in Columbia, April Wind Court.

The street name change was prompted by residents of the six households living on the cul-de-sac, who wanted a less controversial name. It is expected to be about a month before the county's Department of Public Works replaces the street sign with one bearing the new name.

Residents from four of the households attended the hearing, and all said they were excited the street name is finally being changed.

"We're delighted," Shirley Sickles said.

"It's been a long time coming," Ambrose Lane Jr. added.

Though all the residents supported the change, Lane was the only resident who testified to the board. He also submitted testimony on behalf of his neighbor, Heather Dorst.

"When my wife and I first moved our family to Thunder Hill, I had a lot of trepidation moving on a street named Coon Hunt Court," Lane told the board. "Being the son of a civil rights activist and radio personality, I had long come to understand the meaning and uses of the word 'coon.' It's history during and after the Jim Crow era is well-known to me and many of my peers, no matter their racial background.

"Although I found the street name insulting, and still do, Thunder Hill was a beautiful neighborhood, the house was nice and the elementary school is one of the best in the county and state," he added.

The word "coon" has been widely used as a derogatory term for "black person" since 1837, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

In recent years, residents of Coon Hunt Court, located in the Oakland Mills neighborhood of Thunder Hill, have seen their street sign disappear many times. Dorst's testimony, which Lane read, mentioned a time when one of the residents of the court had to chase down an ambulance that accidentally drove by the court, its intended destination, because the sign was missing.

Street names in Thunder Hill come from the titles of paintings by Andrew Wyeth. The artist had a piece called "Raccoon," which led to the nearby "Raccoon Court." There was no "Coon Hunt," although there was a piece entitled "The Coot Hunter," named for a type of bird found in Maine.

About six months ago, a few of the residents, with the help of their County Council member, Calvin Ball, started a petition to get Coon Hunt Court changed, suggesting names of actual Wyeth paintings as possible new names. All six households signed the petition, which was required under county rules for renaming a street, and the residents agreed on three possible names to submit to the county.

In July, the county Department of Planning and Zoning accepted the petition and the residents' preferred name of April Wind Circle. The Planning Board hearing and vote were required before the name change could become final.

Ball, who was unable to attend the hearing because he is in Charlotte, North Carolina, serving as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, praised the board decision in an email.

"I appreciate and applaud the historic decision made for our neighbors on April Wind Court tonight!" he wrote. "I'm proud to have stood with them as they persevered in changing the name to one that is more reflective of the values of celebrating diversity and inclusion on which Columbia was built."

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