A public hearing for bill LD 1591 sponsored by Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross—”Resolve, Directing the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry To Identify Places with Offensive Names and Methods of Changing Those Names”—takes place today, Thursday, May 13 at 9:00 am before the Judiciary.
Please consider offering testimony in favor of this important bill.
Rep. Gerald Talbot sponsored a bill in 1977 to remove the “n-word” racial slur from place names in the state of Maine, of which he had counted 10. That is, ten brooks, hills, and islands that bore this dehumanizing term. The passing of the law made national headlines.
Forty-three years later, Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross learned that her father’s bill had not been effectively enforced when it came to light that five Maine islands and a number of other sites in the state continued to bear offensive names in the year 2020.
Officials have since changed the names of three of the islands in question and instructed two other localities to change their names, which included slurs against Black people and Native American women. But offensive terms remain inscribed on our landscapes and maps.
Last Saturday, the town of Castine voted on whether or not to change the names of “Upper Negro” and “Lower Negro” islands in the Bagaduce River. The measure passed by a narrow margin, with 44 residents in favor and 33 opposed. Which is to say, it could easily have gone the other way.
What the bill does
LD1591 directs Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to form a working group to identify place names that are in violation of the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 1, chapter 27. It further directs the working group to seek to develop the best methods of identification, study and suggest the most effective methods to change names, review current methods, and identify other place names with negative historical connotations.
How you can help
You may submit written testimony, but if you can do that AND show up to speak that is the more impactful way to weigh in. To testify live, you’ve got to register in advance. Navigate to http://legislature.maine.gov/committee/#Committees/JUD and look for “testimony submission” at the upper right.
Advice on crafting testimony
“You get three minutes to testify. Committees are watching this closely and they will cut you off if you go over on time. It is generally best to submit written testimony, then sign up to testify in person as well. Most people just read their testimony to the Committee. You’ll want to start it this way: ‘Good morning Senator Carney, Representative Harnett and distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is [name] and I live in [town]. I am here to testify in support of LD 1591….’ Then give your reasons for supporting the bill. Your testimony much directly speak to the bill and not anything else. You should also mention your expertise in the area, to give your testimony some weight.”