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Lincoln County changes racist road name

Statue of Louis Southworth.
Peter Helzer
City Of Waldport
The road will be re-named in honor of Louis Southworth, an early Black resident of the area who is honored with a statue in the nearby city of Waldport.

A rural road with a racist moniker on the Oregon coast has a new name. It now honors an early Black settler.

The previous name of the small country road near Waldport induces a cringe to modern ears. But sometime in the past, someone thought it was a good idea to call it “Darkey Creek Road.”

It was given the name because one of its residents was Louis Southworth, who came to Oregon as a slave, then bought his freedom and became a prominent local civic leader.

Lincoln County Commissioners voted unanimously Dec. 21 to change the name to Southworth Road.

During a public comment period earlier in the month, some residents pointed out that “Southworth” was the name of the man who enslaved him, and suggested using his birth name of “Hunter” instead. But Commissioner Claire Hall pointed out that several other local landmarks already bear the Southworth name.

“Southworth is the name he was known by throughout his adult life, certainly during his time in residency in Lincoln County,” she said.

Commissioner Doug Hunt agreed.

"One of the purposes in changing the name ... is to honor the man," he said. "To use the name 'Hunter,' I'm not sure many people would associate that name with the man and his many accomplishments."

Southworth was a blacksmith, a musician and a ferry operator. He also helped to found the first public school in Waldport, and served as school board president. He was honored recently with a bronze statue in Waldport, which will eventually be placed in a new park that will bear his name.

A creek that parallels part of the road has already been renamed "Southworth Creek."

The name change takes effect immediately. Earlier this month, the county mailed out notices of the potential name change to about two dozen property owners along the road.

Commissioners said Wednesday that none of the property owners filed an official objection to the proposal. Some testified this month in support of the name change.

That wasn't the case the last time officials proposed to remove the racist name. According to the Yachats News, in 2004, residents objected on the basis that it would be inconvenient to change their address on official documents.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December, 2018. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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