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Earth Notes: Flagstaff To Rename Street Linked To Racist History

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There’s a movement in Flagstaff to change the name of a downtown street with a controversial moniker. City officials are considering several community proposals to rethink Agassiz St. It was named after Louis Agassiz, an influential 19th century biologist and Harvard professor. But his legacy is one of racism.

Louis Agassiz loomed large in the world of natural sciences in the 1800’s. He pioneered the study of glaciers and made numerous contributions to zoology, geology and the study of extinct species.

But Agassiz was also a proponent of an inherently racist theory known as polygenism. It claimed black people evolved separately from white people and were inferior. Polygenism was used to defend slavery and perpetuate white supremacy. Today, the fraudulent theory is considered an example of scientific racism.

Louis Agassiz’s name, however, can still be found throughout northern Arizona, including at the top of the San Francisco Peaks. Agassiz Peak is the second-highest natural point in Arizona next to Humphrey’s Peak in the same mountain range. Of course, the current names are relatively new compared to the ancient names given to the San Francisco Peaks by area tribes, including the Navajo and Hopi.

It would take an act of Congress to rename Agassiz Peak, so Flagstaff residents are focusing on something within their power to change right now: a street name. Many want a name that honors the region’s Indigenous cultures, Navajo Code Talkers and Diné environmentalist and government resistor, Roberta Blackgoat.

The Flagstaff City Council enlisted the public’s help in suggesting names and then voting online for their favorites. The highest-scoring names will be announced this week. 


Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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