Standing just yards from the border of Hempstead Town and the City of New York— where America’s largest township meets America’s largest city— Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony J. Santino and Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby made a bipartisan announcement that they are seeking to rename “Negro Bar Channel” in honor of a deceased hero firefighter Joseph Sanford Jr. The officials, joined by Councilmen Bruce Blakeman and Anthony D’Esposito, called the current name of the waterway, which straddles Inwood and Far Rockaway, an offensive racial slur that insults the diverse and harmonious community surrounding the channel.
“It is highly offensive and simply unconscionable that a border between America’s largest township and the largest city in the nation still carries this racist and intolerant name. The time to change its name is long overdue,” said Santino. “Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, Councilman Bruce Blakeman and Councilman Anthony D’Esposito have joined with me to take action to have the channel renamed after a deceased hero firefighter who lived steps from the waterway.”
Santino, Goosby and the two councilmen have drafted a letter to the New York Board of Geographic Names, requesting the channel renaming. The state board in turn is charged with making recommendations to the federal Board on Geographic Names, which is under the United States Geological Survey. The town officials have also corresponded directly with the federal board.
Negro Bar Channel apparently witnessed a name change in 1963 when Congress purged a different racial slur, the word n_ _ _ _r, from all American maps and geographic features. The Town officials insisted that the updated channel name that was assigned approximately 53 years ago, Negro Bar Channel, is also demeaning, offensive and unacceptable.
“It is unacceptable to use this term in our society,” stated Goosby. “My family has fought against racism, I have broken down racial barriers and there is no reason that African Americans should have to endure this type of institutional racism.”
According to the 2010 U.S. Census data, approximately one-quarter of the residents of Inwood, the community that is adjacent to the channel on the Nassau County side of the waterway, identify themselves as African American. Santino and his colleagues called the channel’s name uniquely offensive to the residents of the diverse and harmonious community of Inwood.
“Inwood is a beautiful and culturally rich community,” stated Blakeman. “Now is the time to remove this ugly term from a body of water that is a gateway to our township.”
Raising a point that he called germane to the channel renaming, the Supervisor referred to a recently signed federal law, which passed Congress unanimously, striking the archaic and racially offensive terms of “negro” and “oriental” from federal statutes. The law targeted two anti-discrimination subsections of U.S. Code that used the aforementioned terms to describe racial groups.
“Congress struck a victory for racial justice in passing legislation that removes the racially offensive term of ‘Negro’ from federal statutes,” said Santino. “If our federal legislators have deemed that this racially charged term should be stricken from the laws of our land, why would we preserve this same type of institutional racism in the names assigned to our nation’s waterways?”
Santino and his colleagues are calling for the waterway to be renamed “Joseph Sanford Jr. Channel” in tribute to a deceased hero from the Inwood Fire Department who lived near the channel.
Ex-Chief Sanford had been a member of the volunteer fire service for more than 20 years and was an active member of the Inwood community. In December 2014, he responded to a house fire call in Woodmere. He fell through a hole in the first floor into the basement and died days later from his injuries.
“As a former fire department chief, I know of the bravery involved in safeguarding people and their property in Hempstead Town,” stated D’Esposito. “Ex-Chief Sanford made the ultimate sacrifice in protecting his neighbors. He was a role model for young people, and I can think of no better person for whom this channel should be renamed.”
The first governmental reference to “N_ _ _ _ r Bar Channel” was made in an 1891 letter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lieutenant Colonel of Engineers G.L. Gillespie to Brigadier General Thomas L. Casey, the then-Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Santino indicated that he would welcome the support of New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio and other officials from the city in the fight to change the name of Negro Bar Channel. The Supervisor stated that the quest to stamp out racism transcends municipal borders and political party affiliation.
“I welcome elected officials from New York City, Nassau County government, the state and federal government to add their voices to our quest to stamp out racism, ‘hate speech’ and discrimination in all of its forms,” concluded Santino. “This is a fight for dignity, justice and ‘doing what is right’ for residents of Inwood, Hempstead Town, New York City and beyond. Racism has no place in government, and Hempstead Town will lead the way in stamping it out wherever it rears its ugly head.”