Department of Geography and the Environment

The Power of Naming: The Toponymic Geographies of Commemorated African-Americans

Mon, February 21, 2011
The Power of Naming: The Toponymic Geographies of Commemorated African-Americans
MLK statue on UT Campus

The names that we give our streets, schools, parks, and other places in our landscape reflect our collective culture and history.  These place names can shape regional identities, give a neighborhood character, and recognize great people in our society.  Dr. Martin L. King Jr. is the most commemorated African-American in the United States, and in fact around the World.  Dr. King makes up nearly 2/3 of all African-American commemorations in the United States.  How does the other 1/3 of commemorative place-naming of notable African-Americans shape our American landscape?  

Dr. Eliot Tretter has recently published a study on commemorative place-naming of notable African-Americans in the February 2011 issue of the Professional Geographer.  His study explores how there are regional characteristics associated with where African-Americans are commemorated, particularly pertaining to cities.   Dr. Tretter uses a variety of Internet-based mapping tools to collect a dataset on the regional variation of the commemoration of thirty famous African-Americans (fifteen men and fifteen women).

Dr. Tretter’s finding show that while Dr. King may have reached a universal symbol of African-Americans transcending limits, other African-Americans figure have not.  He found that African-American commemorations do follow a geographical pattern. In the fact, the patterns show that commemorations are in places associated with African-American.  These figures therefore are not recognized as universal members of a nation and remain symbols of a separate “black nation”.

 

Map of Commemorations

 

Tretter, E. M. (2011). The Power of Naming: The Toponymic Geographies of Commemorated African-Americans. The Professional Geographer63(1), 34-54. doi:10.1080/00330124.2010.537936

(http://www.informaworld.com/openurl?genre=article&issn=0033-0124&volume=63&issue=1&spage=34)

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