A highly offensive racial epithet was once the name of a Texas hunting camp leased in the past by Gov. Rick Perry’s family and a place where the GOP presidential candidate has hosted friends and lawmakers. The racial slur, “N—–head,” was painted on a rock at one of the gates of the property and, while Perry’s office insists that his father painted over the word in the 1980s, photos taken as recently as last summer and seen by the Washington Post show that
… [the rock] was to the left of the gate. It was laid down flat. The exposed face was brushed clean of dirt. White paint, dried drippings visible, covered a word across the surface. An N and two G’s were faintly visible.
The hunting camp is in Throckmorton County in west Texas, which Perry has frequently referred to as where he grew up. Perry and his father, Ray Perry, began hunting at the camp in the 1980s.
When asked last week about the rock, Perry said that the word painted on the rock is an “offensive name that has no place in the modern world.” But his accounts about when and how he dealt with the name of the hunting spot have actually varied and offer a sense of the other world that Perry grew up in, a segregated era in which blacks made up only a small fraction of the local population.
In his responses to two rounds of detailed, written questions, Perry said his father first leased the property in 1983. Rick Perry said he added his own name to the lease from 1997 to 1998, when he was state agriculture commissioner, and again from 2004 to 2007, when he was governor.
He offered a simple version of how he dealt with the rock, followed by a more elaborate one.
“When my Dad joined the lease in 1983, he took the first opportunity he had to paint over the offensive word on the rock during the 4th of July holiday,” Perry said in his initial response. “It is my understanding that the rock was eventually turned over to further obscure what was originally written on it.”
Perry said that he was not with his father when he painted over the name but that he “agreed with” the decision.
In response to follow-up questions, Perry gave a more detailed account.
“My mother and father went to the lease and painted the rock in either 1983 or 1984,” Perry wrote. “This occurred after I paid a visit to the property with a friend and saw the rock with the offensive word. After my visit I called my folks and mentioned it to them, and they painted it over during their next visit.”
“Ever since, any time I ever saw the rock it was painted over,” Perry said.
In the not too distant past, such racially offensive names could be found throughout the US. Civil rights groups and government agencies have worked to have such offensive names changed: Back in 1962, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names indeed substituted “Negro” for more than a hundred names like that of Perry’s hunting spot. Lady Bird Johnson, the former first lady, worked to change the racially offensive name of a mountain in Burnet, Texas; the mountain’s name became “Colored Mountain” in 1968. The Texas NAACP started lobbying the state legislature to change many more such names in 1989, though it has met “resistance from private landowners.”
For years, says the Washington Post, Throckmorton County was “considered a virtual no-go zone for blacks because of old stories about the lynching of a black man there, locals said.” In 1950, the Census listed only one black resident out of a population of about 3,600. There were four black residents in 1960; two in 1970; none in 1980. The 2010 Census shows the county to have 11 black residents.
Mae Lou Yeldell, who is black and has lived in Haskell County for 70 years, recalled a gas station refusing to sell her father fuel when he drove the family through Throckmorton in the 1950s. She said it was not uncommon in the 1950s and ’60s for whites to greet blacks with, “Morning, n—–!”
“I heard that so much it’s like a broken record,” said Yeldell, who had never heard of the hunting spot by the river.
In responding to questions from the Washington Post, Perry said that, where he grew up “in the country,” there just weren’t “many people at all. … To some extent college, and to a great extent the Air Force, expanded my worldview. I traveled all over the world — Asia, Europe, Northern Africa — and witnessed the diversity of other peoples and societies.” Noting that he judges “folks by their character and ethics,” Perry emphasized his appointment of Texas’ first African-American Supreme Court Justice, who later was appointed to Chief Justice, and the first Latina Secretary of State.
On Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain said of the name of Perry’s hunting spot “that’s just very insensitive”:
“[There is not] a more vile negative word than the N-word and for him to leave it there as long as he did, before I hear that they finally painted it over is just plain insensitive to a lot of black people in this country.”
It’s also “just plain insensitive” to a lot of people in this country, period.
Related Care2 Coverage
Photo by Gage Skidmore