WHAT'S IN a name? Embarrassment, when the name is Negro Mountain.
State Rep. Rosita Youngblood says her son and her graddaughter, seventh graders at Henry Houston Elementary School in Mount Airy, were working on a class project last spring when they discovered the name of a ridge in southwestern Pennsylvania.
"They were both offended," Youngblood said. "My granddaughter said, 'Grandmom, is this true?' I said, 'There's no such thing as Negro Mountain.' Then I learned it was true."
And because she's a state rep, the children asked her to do something about it. Now she is.
Youngblood is proposing that a commission be formed to research and trace the meaning of the name. She also suggests renaming it.
And here we step into a Pennsylvania cultural gap between urban African-American Philadelphia and rural white Somerset County.
"I've lived in this county for 40 years and never heard anybody mention that this name means anything other than what it is: Negro Mountain," state Rep. Bob Bastian, R-Somerset, told us. "I never knew Negro was a bad word until she mentioned it."
Is it a bad word? After all, aren't the United Negro College Fund and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People positive organizations?
"The difference is that they've done a lot of good for a lot of people," Youngblood said. Negro Mountain dredges up an ugly past and since "we're in the 21st century, I think we should do something about changing the name."
J. Whyatt Mondesire is president of the NAACP's Philadelphia branch. This week he was elected to the NAACP national board. His take on Youngblood's effort?
"Hats off to Rosita for finding this anachronism in Pennsylvania history and acting to correct it," Mondesire said.
Clout now mines some irony in this mountain. It got its name not in derision, but to honor an African-American hero.
According to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry and several other sources, here's how it happened:
During the French and Indian War in the late 1750s, an African-American slave or scout named Nemesis fought valiantly with a frontier force under Col. Thomas Cresap.
Nemesis, a large and powerful man, was killed in the skirmish and buried on the mountain.
An alternate legend calls him Goliah and says he saved a hunting party led by Capt. Andrew Friend during an Indian attack.
The Appalachian ridge, which runs 30 miles through Pennsylvania and Maryland, has been called Negro Mountain ever since.
The ridge took on added significance in 1921 when the state recognized it as the highest point (3,213 feet) in Pennsylvania. And in so doing changed the name of the summit (but not the mountain ridge) to Mount Davis, in honor of a white settler who once owned the land.
Youngblood thinks a better idea is to honor the war hero.
"He did have a name, whether it was Nemesis or not," she said. "I think some history should be done. If they decide to call it the Nemesis Mountain, I'd be happy with that."
Christopher Bracey, a law professor and associate professor of African and African-American studies at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote about the mountain on his blackprof.com Web site after discovering it on a cross-country drive.
"I must confess I have a slightly different take on it than [Youngblood]," Bracey said yesterday. "Here we have a mountain, whose name was intended to be a testament to Negro bravery. It seems rather crass and unsophisticated to name it Negro Mountain, but the intentions were strong."
What disturbs Bracey is the 1921 naming of the summit for Davis, the white landowner, rather than the valiant black scout.
"I actually like 'Negro Mountain,' " Bracey said. "The main thing is not to refer to it as Mount Davis. Negro Mountain seems at once courageous and tragic because we simply don't know enough of the history to honor this man's bravery."
Bracey's research also uncovered the name of the ridge just south of Negro Mountain. Which is . . . ?
"Polish Mountain," Bracey chuckled.
People wonder why Gov. Rendell has always enjoyed good press. How can we not love a guy who just this week:
_ Said citizen activist Eric Epstein has the mental stablity of "that guy who ate all those people." (Hannibal Lecter?)
_ Called Matt Brouillette and analysts at the conservative Commonwealth Foundation "imbeciles."
_ Described state Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon County, as "certifiable."
All disagreed with His Edness on how he governs and spends.
Brady beach bash
Time once again for the alliterative Democratic City Committee fundraiser, the Bob Brady Beach Bash.
The 14th annual, hosted by ward leader Tommy Johnson and Todd Christian, an aide to City Council President Anna Verna, goes from 5 to 9 p.m. on July 28 at the Boardwalk Bar and Grill, Wildwood and
Schellenger in Wildwood.
That's a location change from the Beach Club in North Wildwood, which was eaten by condos or something.
Admission is only $30, which gets you a buffet and refreshments. There will be music, but best of all, you get to see pols wearing flip-flops instead of doing them.
Staff writers Gar Joseph and John M. Baer contributed to this report.