Small hamlet of Swastika, New York, votes to keep name, despite complaint

January 8, 2021

It took us a few months to catch up with this news, but have you heard about a town in upstate New York State where most people would avoid living—COVID pandemic, or not?

NBC’s local New York affiliate reported last September that the rural upstate New York hamlet of Swastika had opted retain its name—despite a complaint that the moniker symbolizes the hate and intolerance of the Nazi regime.

The unincorporated crossroads in the Adirondack Mountain town of Black Brook, about 35 miles south of the U.S.-Canada border, has been known as Swastika for more than a century.

According to NBC, Swastika’s town council members considered a name change a few months ago, after a visitor from New York City said the designation was offensive, and disrespectful to the memory of the World War II veterans buried in graves in the nearby countryside. Michael Alcamo said he was bicycling through the

 “I was stunned that the people who live there wouldn’t have a meeting and pick a different name sometime after 1945, if not prior,” Alcamo said.

However, council members met on September 14 and unanimously nixed a name change.

“We regret that individuals, from out of the area, that lack the knowledge of the history of our community become offended when they see the name,” Black Brook supervisor Jon Douglass wrote in an email. “To the members of our community, that the board represents, it is the name that their ancestors chose.”

The symbol has been indelibly linked to Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party since the 1930s, but the town’s name actually originates from the Sanskrit word meaning well-being.

State Senator James Skoufis questioned in a tweet shortly after the vote whether the debate would’ve looked different if one of the council members was Jewish. He also called for legislation.

“Since the town board won’t do the right thing, I’ll be introducing legislation prohibiting use of the name,” Skoufis said.

One of the four council members who voted to keep the name, Howard Aubin, told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that “only an intolerant person” would assume the name is connected to Nazis.

Douglass said the name came from settlers in the 1800s. The Press-Republican of Plattsburgh related a different story in a 1977 article that quoted a former postmaster as saying the rural community was once known as Goodrich Mills, but became known as Swastika in 1913 after that name appeared on the local post office.

Douglass, who did not take part in the vote, told NPR people have requested the name be changed several times before, including after World War II.

“And some of the residents that were from that area actually fought in World War II and refused to change the name just because Hitler tried to tarnish the meaning of swastika,” he said.

Alcamo said he was disappointed but hopes the town will reconsider at some point.

In April 2019, the Cherry Hills Village City Council in Colorado voted unanimously to drop the name “Swastika Acres” from a subdivision.

Research contact: @nbcny

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