Brighton’s Council Rock Primary School Must Change Its Name Immediately!

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This is not the kind of column I like to write. Still, there’s an obligation as a journalist to sometimes cross a line your mother would not like to see you cross. Alas, this is one of those times.

Our story begins where most stories begin: at the confluence of two well-worn travel routes. No one knows the origin of these two intersecting paths. Most likely, they began as something equivalent to a deer run, a track blazed by animals as they wandered from one watering hole to another in search of food.

It was only a matter of time before man followed those beasts, hunting them down for their clan and tribe. Eventually, these paths became what we identify a “Indian Trails” on account of their popularity and influence during the British Colonial Era. In our neck of the woods, these trails, while beholden to the Iroquois Confederacy as a whole, were plodded up mainly by the Seneca, its westernmost tribe.

Our focus is on two trails in particular: the one from Canandaigua to the Genesee Falls; the other from “Indian Landing” (at Irondequoit Creek) to Avon. Thousands of years ago, just to the northeast of a low range of hills at the intersection of these two trails, receding glaciers left a departing gift: a 50-ton boulder, seven feet tall and nine feet wide.

For centuries, until well after the Revolutionary War, a large elm tree draped its umbrella-like limbs over this orphan stone, protecting if from nature’s worst elements. Beneath that tree and at the rock, generations of Seneca chieftains are said to have held council there. We don’t know how far back, although given the prominence of the trails, the strategic junction they formed, and its role as an easy-to-spot landmark, it seems a likely place for these meetings.

Historically, we do have eyewitness accounts of such events in the late 17th/early 18th centuries. It was during this period (ca. 1792) that Orringh Stone built his log cabin and tavern on Township No. 13: 7th Range, some 50 yards northeast of what we know today as “Indian Council Rock.”

The story of Council Rock reads like something out of the playbook of cultural appropriation. Despite his lack of seniority of the land, an eyewitness saw Orringh Stone on no less than two occasions play the part of “the Great White Hope” and “took the firearms and accoutrements of the Indians away from them before the Indians went into council because of the prevalence of liquor at this time.” (Babcock, A. Emerson, “The City of Tryon and Vicinity,” Publications of the Rochester Historical Society: Publication fund series · Volume 1, 1922, pp 146-147).

Progress, in the form of those Europeans who ultimately settled in this portion of Western New York and their descendants, in due course saw the need to erase Indian Council Rock from its historic location. In the first attempt, in 1904 when the State sought to widen East Avenue (as the Canandaigua to Genesee Falls Indian trail is now called), Brighton Supervisor A. Emerson Babcock successfully fought State contractors (who apparently sought to blast it) to preserve the sanctity of Indian Council Rock.

Sadly, by 1931, Babcock’s last year as Brighton Supervisor, when the State demanded East Avenue would once again be widened, the outcome would be much different. The old rock was removed and located down the road. It no longer marked the significance of the crossing paths. Its place in history was gone. (Good news, though folks, in 1974 it was relocated close to its original spot next to the Stone Tolan House.)

It’s clear Council Rock symbolizes the racism inherent in America. Those who first settled the land, and who held solemn council at the Rock, have been trampled by the white invaders who unilaterally took this very same land (including the Rock).

This action directly contradicts its namesake school’s “district beliefs” to “emphasize cooperation and foster a spirit of community, [and to] also value each student for the unique qualities they possess.” Indeed, how can the history of the real Indian Council Rock show that “children of differing abilities, talents, interests, and backgrounds enjoy working and playing together.” This is exactly the opposite of “a safe, nurturing environment.”

In the name of *an ongoing effort to be more culturally responsive, thoughtful, and inclusive,* Brighton’s Council Rock Primary School must change its name. The use of the phrase “Council Rock” is demeaning and offensive. I suggest the name be “Augustus Emerson Babcock Primary School.”

But wait, there’s more bad news.

The name “Brighton” itself must be considered inappropriate and must also be changed.

Without getting into the whole history, as many know, William Billinghurst named the Town of Brighton for his home in England. Brighton, England is a port city known primarily for fishing. However, as a port city, it may have also seen slave ships and profited from the slave trade.

*While I am not taking a stance to whether that is true or not, I do feel strongly that this is not in agreement with the Town’s beliefs to value all cultures and experiences of our residents.*

What I can say is true is this: eyewitness reports state that, in the 1870s at least, Brighton, England hosted minstrel shows. In fact, they didn’t just call them “minstrel shows.” In her 1933 autobiography Unfinished Adventure: Selected Reminiscences from an Englishwoman’s Life, British suffragette Evelyn Sharp reveals of her early years living in Brighton, “For side-shows there were n—– minstrels, singing comic songs that we took back to London and shocked our amused elders with.”

*It may seem silly to some, but the fact that the namesake of the Town of Brighton regularly hosted minstrel shows where white actors performed in blackface does actually matter when it comes to questions of what we choose to name ourselves after.*

The Town of “Brighton” must therefore replace its name with another one that doesn’t have *the potential to be controversial or offensive.*

This may *jingle* a few *bells* in your head, but how about “Billinghurst”?

Comments

  1. John Menches says

    Chris, you are putting them to the test. I wonder if they are becoming tired
    Of this stuff. You know. “They” soon will have to realize that you have to stop judging people of the past using todays social norms. What makes them think their changed judgement of yesterday won’t have their judgement changed by those of a future generation. How will they think of that reality. Especially if they are found wrong by future society norms.
    John Menches

  2. Chris Carosa says

    John: Thanks for the comment. I was worried no one would understand what the asterisks meant! – Chris

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