JUNEAU (AP) — Gov. Bill Walker has made official Alaska’s intent to change the title of a census area named for confederate military officer Wade Hampton.
Walker sent a letter to U.S. Census Bureau Director John Thompson on Wednesday, saying he planned to now refer to the region in western Alaska as the Kusilvak Census Area to honor the wishes of local residents. The area is home to the Kusilvak Mountains.
The original naming of the Wade Hampton Census Area “was completed over a century ago without the knowledge and consent of the area’s residents, and further, the current name has no connection to the culture or history of our land or people,” Walker wrote. He said he therefore considers it inappropriate to keep using the Wade Hampton name.
Hampton was a one-time slave owner who rose to a lieutenant general fighting for the confederacy during the Civil War. He became a governor of South Carolina and U.S. senator from that state. His name was first attached to a district in Alaska at the suggestion of his son-in-law, from Virginia, who had been assigned to Nome as a judge in 1913, according to census information cited by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in a recent letter to Walker urging a name change.
Walker’s letter was accompanied by Murkowski’s letter, as well as letters from area legislators and a resolution passed last month by the city of Hooper Bay and the Native village of Hooper Bay calling for the change to Kusilvak.
In a recent interview, Myron Naneng Sr., president of the Association of Village Council Presidents, said the push for the name change began months before the deadly June shootings in South Carolina that brought renewed attention to remnants of confederate history. But he said that elevated the issue.
The Census Bureau in April said the state could initiate a name change with a letter to Thompson and that after the agency receives notification of the name change, the area name will change in Census Bureau publications.
State demographer Eddie Hunsinger said Thursday that he expects this to be a done deal now that Walker has weighed in. At one point, he said the Census Bureau said there would have to be a demonstrated consensus at the state level to change the name but more recently indicated a letter would suffice.
Hunsinger said he believes the package sent by Walker would meet either standard. He said he would work with the Census Bureau to make sure it implements the name change and carries it out as quickly as possible.