For the past year, cities and states across the country have reckoned with racist and historically ignorant namesakes on buildings, street signs and statues. Howard County is now among the jurisdictions intentionally examining whose name gets used and where.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced the inception of the Public Facilities and Spaces Commission on Thursday. The 12-person commission is set to examine the names of buildings, streets and statues in the county and decide whether or not to rename them.
From multiple Howard County public schools with names connected to slave owners or plantations, to the name of the county itself — named after John Eager Howard, a Continental Army colonel and former governor of Maryland who owned enslaved people — Howard, like other jurisdictions, has many namesakes for the commission to explore.
The commission — which will be comprised of academic experts, educators, community leaders and professional historians — will review the history surrounding the namesakes and decide if that public facility “participated in or encouraged the oppression of African Americans, Indigenous Americans and other individuals of color and contributing to the history of systemic racism,” according to Ball.
“The current landscape of our country demands that we address and confront the ugly truths of our past and present and that includes ensuring the namesakes of our facilities and spaces reflect today’s values,” Ball said during his remarks Thursday.
The facilities and spaces the county will look at include county-owned streets, buildings (including schools and libraries) and parks; county neighborhoods; and statues in county-owned parks.
“We recognize that we choose to name our public facilities and what we choose to name those facilities and spaces reflects on who we are today,” Ball said. “For too many years we haven’t asked the hard questions about these namesakes, but the time is now to face our history, learn from it and move forward with an honest understanding of who we’ve chosen to honor by naming our public spaces after them.”
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Shawn Gladden, executive director of the Howard County Historical Society, is leading the commission for the county.
Gladden said the commission will have access to the Howard County archives, as well as archives through other historical partners to conduct their research.
“For us, this is an academic exercise, one that has occurred in many communities throughout the history of our nation as our values as a society has changed,” Gladden said. “Many of the street names that we Howard countians know by heart were once named something else 100 years ago. Trust me, we have the records.”
Ani Begay Auld, a Navajo Nation representative, also spoke at Thursday’s news conference, urging the commission to honor the Susquehannock people who signed a peace treaty with Maryland to give up their provenance over the territory that is now Howard County.
“The true reflection of a community is evident by how its citizens are incorporated into its values,” Auld said. “As we embark to incorporate names that embody our values, I would ask that these first inhabitants presently removed from the land be honored in namesake.”
Members of the commission include: Auld; Denise Boston, the newly hired equity and restorative practices manager for the county; Bessie Bordenave, president of the Harriet Tubman Foundation; Towanda Brown, vice chair of the Council of Elders of the Black Community of Howard County; Everlene Cunningham, Howard County Center of African American Culture board of directors chair; Robert L. Harris; Allison Jessing, events and seminars manager for the Howard County Library System; Kori Jones, first vice president of the Howard County NAACP; Kelly Palich, Heritage Program coordinator for the county Department of Recreation and Parks; Moyah Panda; Nicole Paterson; and Tara Simpson.
The commission is set to complete its work by Nov. 5.