In the long-standing tradition of Texas politicians, Rick Perry likes to hunt. Back home near the small, dusty town of Paint Creek, Perry's parents even have a hunting camp, a 1,070-acre tract of land situated on a much larger ranch belonging to a charitable trust. Over the years, as a state legislator and then as governor, Perry was known for bringing fellow lawmakers and his pals to shoot a bit of game there. And for years, next to the gated entrance, there was a big slab of rock and painted on it was the camp's name: Niggerhead. Today, the rock has been laid flat and the name painted over in white, though recent photos viewed by the Washington Post show an n and two gs still faintly visible.
The camp has a new name, at least officially — North Camp Pasture — though the ranch's manager said it was only changed to that in the past five years. From talking to dozens of local residents, ranch hands, and others, the Washington Post concludes that the old racist name was still in use perhaps as recently as that, and certainly for a while after Perry began visiting the camp. Perry, who called the name "offensive," acknowledged that it had been visible on his first of twelve or so hunting expeditions, but that it was blocked out soon after.
My mother and father went to the lease and painted the rock in either 1983 or 1984. 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.
This would've been just a few years after Ray, Perry's father, would've started hunting there. But it doesn't explain the various people who said they remember seeing the name on the rock as recently as the late nineties — one worker at the ranch claims to have seen it just a few years ago, in 2008. While Perry may have a relatively strong case that this has nothing to do with him — he says he more often than not used another entrance to the ranch — this will likely be heaped onto the already substantial mound of gaffes and embarrassing details waylaying the governor's presidential aspirations.
Update: Immediately, the news got picked up by fellow GOP contender Herman Cain — and sole African-American vying for the party's nomination — who went on Fox News Sunday to blast the news.
There isn’t a more vile, negative word than the N-word, and for him to leave it there as long as he did, until before, I hear, they finally painted over it, is just plain insensitive to a lot of black people in this country.
This is a sentiment that is not hard to understand, regardless of race. But it also bears mentioning that Cain is riding a little wave off his strong showing in the Florida and MIchigan straw polls last week, and this is a made-to-order opportunity for him to address the Republican Party's long-standing issues wooing African-American voters.
For its part, Perry's campaign did not wait to respond to the Washington Post's story. Speaking to the Times' Caucus blog this afternoon, a Perry spokesman tried to distance his candidate from the brewing scandal.
When Governor Perry was party to the hunting lease from 1997 to 2007, the property was described as northern pasture. He has not been to the property since 2006.
The spokesman also clarified that the property, while used by the Perrys, was never "owned, controlled, or managed" by them, and that Perry never brought groups there while the "word on the rock was still visible." Sorry to say it, Rick, but your moment in the sun is officially over.
Short History Lesson: Turns out "Niggerhead" was once a name "often given to mountains and creeks and rock outcroppings across the country," even to soaps and other household goods. Later, in 1962, after much civil rights lobbying, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names redubbed many of the locations Negrohead. Evidently it forgot about this one. (Courtesy of the Washington Post, which broke this story.)