Efforts to rename Negro Brook in the Townshend State Forest started a year ago when a Vermonter well-versed in geography discovered it.
After doing some research, Evan Litwin created the Rename Negro Brook Alliance.
“I think we can all agree that the term is offensive and that it’s not something that we want to use here in 2020 in Vermont. We want our state parks to be welcoming, affirming, and feel safe to anyone in them,” said Litwin.
Not long into his efforts, Litwin joined forces with his co-worker Alex Hazzard. Together, they submitted a petition to the Vermont State Board of Libraries, which handles geographic renaming.
“Me, as a black person, if I walked into the Townshend State (Forest) and saw something called Negro Brook, that’s automatically a place where I don’t really feel welcomed and I am probably going to leave,” said Hazzard.
Elise Guyette, Vermont historian and author of the book, Discovering Black Vermont, suggested renaming the brook after Townshend’s longest-living black family in the late 1800s. Prior to her book, Guyette created a database of African-Americans who were recorded in the federal census from 1790 to 1870.
“When I heard there was discussion about renaming Negro Brook, I thought I could contribute to the conversation by looking in my database and seeing if I could find African American families who had lived there, and I discovered James Huzzy and his wife Susanna Toby,” said Guyette. “She had lived in Townshend for at least 40 years and that’s the longest-lived family that I found.”
Later this year, the Vermont State Board of Libraries they will hold a public hearing to discuss changing the name of the brook.
“We’re certainly going to honor the process,” said board chairman Bruce Post. “We’ll honor the proponents, we will examine the name carefully, we’ll see what kind of history we can get, what people feel about it today,”
Post explains it’s a step in the right direction and Vermont has to accept some responsibility. Post recalls finding his Black Lives Matter Poster vandalized in his yard three years ago.
“These kinds of issues are important to me,” he said. “That’s the way I’m going to approach this name change. It’s important to me, not just because of what the proponents might have to say about it, but about my own personal experience dealing with issues like these.”
In two years, the brook will be a part of Vermont’s African American Heritage Trail. Founder Curtis Reed, Jr. says it will help teach others about the state’s diverse and complex history.
“We’ve never been an entirely homogeneous state,” Reed said. “There have been persons of African heritage before the founding of this state.”