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But a seemingly unlikely foe has emerged: the NAACP. Turns out the longtime civil-rights group wants Grand County to keep that moniker.
County Councilwoman Mary McGann is leading the charge to scrap the name, saying she was moved by the "horrendous actions of a white supremacist" in Charleston.
McGann, a retired teacher, said the canyon is a key recreation attraction. As reactions to the racist killings continue including criticisms of the Confederate battle flag as a racist symbol the canyon's name comes off as offensive, she said in a statement, and could hinder tourism.
She quoted from the recreational tourism book, "Hiking From Here to WOW," by Kathy and Craig Copeland: "You'll hear the name 'Negro Bill' in reference to this canyon and the surrounding Wilderness Study Area. But that's the last you'll hear it from us. Some names, regardless of historic origin, should be stricken from the record. Otherwise, they reinforce attitudes now universally recognized as noxious, repugnant or just plain asinine in this case all three."
But Jeanetta Williams, tri-state conference president of the NAACP for Utah, Idaho and Nevada, argues the word is not pejorative and that removing it would assign a negative connotation to a word that remains in the title of several prominent civil-rights organizations.
Williams also said it is important that the canyon stay true to its historical roots.
It is named after William Grandstaff, who McGann noted never went by Bill. He was a mixed-race cowboy who prospected and ran cattle in the canyon in the late 1870s. Historical accounts say he was chased out for bootlegging whiskey to area Indians. Many believe residents trumped up those charges so they could get his cattle.
The canyon's original name used the decidedly offensive n-word, but that changed in the 1960s with the NAACP's support.
McGann said locals back then opposed getting rid of the n-word as part of the canyon's name but the federal government insisted on it.
The councilwoman wants the new name to be William Grandstaff Canyon, although she faced resistance recently from some council members who agreed with the NAACP.