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Racism Against Natives Dooms Mark Twain Honor

A cove on the shore of Lake Tahoe won't be renamed in honor of Mark Twain because of his racist views on Native Americans.
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A state panel in Nevada has opted to not name a Lake Tahoe cove for Mark Twain, saying the author was racist against Native Americans.

The request to rename a cove on the lake’s northeast shore for Samuel Clemens—Twain was a pen name—has been indefinitely tabled by the Nevada State Board on Geographic Names.

“Samuel Clemens had racist views on the Native people of this country and has captured those views in his literature,” Darrel Cruz wrote in a letter to the board, reported the Associated Press. “Therefore, we cannot support the notion of giving a place name in Lake Tahoe to Samuel Clemens.”

Cruz, is head of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California’s cultural resource department, also said Twain doesn’t deserve the honor because he was against naming the lake Tahoe, a word derived from Washoe word “da ow” for lake.

Cruz also mentioned a particular quote from Twain: “People say that Tahoe means ‘Silver Lake’—‘Limpid Water’—‘Falling Leaf.’ Bosh! It means grasshopper soup, the favorite dish of the digger tribe—and of the Pi-utes as well.”

The term “digger” is derogatory and refers to western tribes who dug roots for food.

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Thomas Quirk, an English professor emeritus at the University of Missouri and leading Twain scholar, told the Associated Press that Twain did get over his racism toward blacks but Quirk hasn’t found any evidence that the author’s views on Native Americans ever changed.

Quirk told the Associated Press that Twain did not embrace idolizing who he called the “noble red man,” which was Twain’s way of picking on James Fenimore Cooper.

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“When it comes to African Americans, he was ahead of his time substantially,” Quirk told the Associated Press. “When it comes to Native Americans, his record is not very good. If he were alive today, he would sing a different tune.”

Robert Stewart, a member of the Nevada State Board on Geographic Names, actually dropped his support of the renaming even though he initiated it.

“I have a great deal of respect for the Washoe Tribe. And if their cultural committee is unhappy with naming the cove for Mark Twain, I’m not going to fight them,” Stewart told the Associated Press. “We need to show sensitivity to the tribe.”