In the early years of his political career, Rick Perry began hosting fellow lawmakers, friends and supporters at his family's secluded West Texas hunting camp, a place known by the name painted in block letters across a large, flat rock standing upright at its gated entrance.
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"Niggerhead," it read.
Ranchers who once grazed cattle on the 1,070-acre parcel on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River called it by that name well before Perry and his father, Ray, began hunting there in the early 1980s. There is no definitive account of when the rock first appeared on the property. In an earlier time, the name on the rock was often given to mountains and creeks and rock outcroppings across the country. Over the years, civil rights groups and government agencies have had some success changing those and other racially offensive names that dotted the nation's maps.
But the name of this particular parcel did not change for years after it became associated with Rick Perry, first as a private citizen, then as a state official and finally as Texas governor. Some locals still call it that. As recently as this summer, the slablike rock -- lying flat, the name still faintly visible beneath a coat of white paint -- remained by the gated entrance to the camp.
When asked last week, Perry said the word on the rock is an "offensive name that has no place in the modern world."
But how, when or whether he dealt with it when he was using the property is less clear and adds a dimension to the emerging biography of Perry, who quickly moved into the top tier of Republican presidential candidates when he entered the race in August.
He grew up in a segregated era whose history has defined and complicated the careers of many Southern politicians. Perry has spoken often about how his upbringing in this sparsely populated farming community influenced his conservatism. He has rarely, if ever, discussed what it was like growing up amid segregation in an area where blacks were a tiny fraction of the population.
In his responses to two rounds of detailed, written questions, Perry said his father first leased the property in 1983. Rick Perry said he added his own name to the lease from 1997 to 1998, when he was state agriculture commissioner, and again from 2004 to 2007, when he was governor.
He offered a simple version of how he dealt with the rock, followed by a more elaborate one.
"When my Dad joined the lease in 1983, he took the first opportunity he had to paint over the offensive word on the rock during the 4th of July holiday," Perry said in his initial response. "It is my understanding that the rock was eventually turned over to further obscure what was originally written on it."
Source: Washington Post | Stephanie McCrummen