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Baytown City Council Will Vote On Changing Offensive Lake Name

NAACP Houston Branch President James Dixon speaks at a lectern in front of media microphones at an outdoor press conference.
NAACP Houston / Facebook
NAACP Houston Branch President James Dixon at a press conference in Baytown on Feb. 8, 2021. Dixon was joined by local elected officials who called for changing the name of Lake Negrohead.

The Baytown City Council will vote on a resolution to change the name of Negrohead Lake, a move 30 years in the making, the city’s mayor announced Monday.

If the resolution is passed, it would be sent along to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names — the federal government’s renaming authority — which could then decide on making the change, Baytown Mayor Brandon Capetillo announced Monday morning.

The city council will consider the resolution on renaming the body of water to Lake Henry Doyle at its meeting Thursday.

The announcement came during a press conference with the Houston chapter of the NAACP and local officials, including Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who in 1991 sponsored the bill that was supposed to result in removing offensive names from publicly owned parks, lakes, creeks and other outdoor locations.

But an NPR report in December found that just one location mentioned in the bill had been renamed.

“It’s time to do this,” Ellis said. “It’s the right thing to do. This is Black History Month, it’s an appropriate time to do it, and do it now.”

Baytown has been the center of racial controversy in recent years. Last year, a movement to change the name of the city’s Robert E. Lee High School failed, after the Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District voted against the measure. In 2016, a Black student on Baytown’s Ross S. Sterling High School cheerleading squad accused the school of singling her out over her hair, according to ABC 13.

In addition to the push to change the name of the lake locally, U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, co-sponsored a bill that would change the process at the Board on Geographic Names. H.R. 8455, filed in September by Democratic U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland of New Mexico, would create an advisory committee to recommend offensive place names to be reviewed by the board.

Green has also pushed for a federal Department of Reconciliation that would work to rename other offensive locations across the country and remove Confederate statues and other symbols. It would also create a secretary of reconciliation to address systemic racism in criminal justice, housing, voting, employment, and other social issues.

"We must have a holistic and inclusive means of eliminating the hate that divides this nation," Green said Monday.

Henry Doyle was one of the first students enrolled at the Texas State University for Negroes, a temporary law school set up by the state in 1947 after the University of Texas was successfully sued for not admitting African Americans into its law school. That school was later renamed the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University.

The lake in Baytown, which had previously been renamed from a more offensive racist term, was set to be named in Doyle’s honor. But the U.S. Board on Geographic Names rejected it, claiming there was no evidence of local approval.

The Baytown vote seeks to rectify that, by providing such evidence of support to the federal government — support that NAACP Houston President James Dixon said was long overdue.

“Why did it take until 2021?” Dixon said. “Why did it take George Floyd's death? Why did it take so long, for changes that could have been made with a stroke of a pen?”

Additional reporting by Florian Martin.