Groups sue to change name of 'Jap Road'

Wednesday, December 3, 2003 Posted: 4:25 PM EST (2125 GMT)

DALLAS, Texas (Reuters) -- Several civil rights groups filed a discrimination complaint on Tuesday trying to get a small community in southeast Texas to remove a racial slur from its city maps by changing the name of its "Jap Road."

The Anti-Defamation League, Japanese American Citizens League and others filed a discrimination complaint on behalf of two Japanese-Americans with two U.S. government agencies asking for them to suspend paying federal tax dollars to Jefferson County in Texas until the county renames Jap Road.

The three-mile stretch of road in Fannett, near Beaumont, has been around for about 100 years. It was named to honor a Japanese family who moved to the area and helped introduce the region to rice farming.

Over the years, the name has remained the same but the meaning of "Jap" has changed to become a racial slur.

"By continuing to have the street named 'Jap Road', Jefferson County gives residents and visitors to the area the impression that the county condones racial bias and discrimination against Japanese people," the groups said in a statement.

The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A similar effort to change the name of the road 10 years ago was met by stiff resistance among local residents, and even some of the descendants of the original Japanese settlers.

In 1993, Jefferson County said it would let local residents decide if they wanted to change the name. No change came about as several residents said they found nothing offensive.

Local legend has it that when Fannett had a population of less than 100, the town pitched in to build a road to the rice farm of Yoshio Mayumi and his brother. The path was named Jap Road in 1905 to honor the family.

George Hirasaki, president of the Houston chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, said he does not agree with the decision to go ahead with the complaint, especially after a bruising battle over the road 10 years ago that raised animosity between Japanese-Americans and the local community.

He is advocating naming the road after the Mayumi family, as well as educating local residents of the contributions of that pioneering family.