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NEXT: Scioto, Ohio – A Story

David Staley David Staley NEXT: Scioto, Ohio – A StoryPhoto by Susan Post
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What follows is not a prediction. It is a plausible scenario written in the form of a “history from the future.” The scenario is written as if the year were 2030…

On July 1, 2026, City Council announced a change to the city charter, renaming the city of Columbus as “Scioto.”

While there had been earlier rumblings previously about changing the name of the city, these were never seriously considered, and were thought to reflect the ideas of a radical fringe. But after the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer of 2020, more and more people began to reexamine structural racism, revising their ideas about the past and especially the way in which structural racism had been memorialized in statues…and in place names.

It began with the removal of the statues of Christopher Columbus around the city. Unlike other cities, these memorials were not violently torn down, but peaceably removed, eventually housed at the Ohio History Connection, where they have been historically re-contextualized.

In their place around the city, the Mayor commissioned replicas of Hopewell and Adena mounds; the artist Maya Lin designed one prominent example that now sits outside City Hall. Years previously, the sculptor Todd Slaughter designed a serpent mount that was to extend over the Broad Street Bridge, a design that was not executed at the time. By the winter of 2020, there was a revival of the idea. Funds were secured (GCAC leads the way) and the serpent mound was finally built in 2023. The Serpent Mound Bridge became an international architectural attraction, as much for its symbolic meaning as for its striking design. 

The Columbus city flag, which depicted a seal including one of Columbus’ ships, was officially redesigned, based on a design from OSU Design professor Paul Nini.

During the COVID-19-affected academic year 2020-21, Ohio State students initiated a broad discussion of the land grant universities’ histories of colonialism, that the land grants that funded universities like Ohio State were seized from indigenous groups. OSU officially recognized and atoned for the land seizures that preceded the Morrill Act. Starting with the 2021 football season, before each game an indigenous land acknowledgement was read before the playing of the national anthem, a practice that continues today. Soon, the practice of reading such land acknowledgements spread to land grant universities across the country, although not everywhere. Indeed, a sizable number of institutions continue to deliberately avoid such acknowledgments.  

During the summer of 2020, a petition drive began to officially change the name of the city…to Flavortown. Although the petition drew tens of thousands of signatures, the idea was never really taken seriously by civic leaders, and by the end of the summer the idea appeared to have ended there. But as these other changes occurred– the replacement of monuments, the indigenous land acknowledgements, the new flag–the idea of changing the name of the city to something else again gained momentum. Like the support behind the BLM protests, what might have been dismissed at one time as a radical idea now looked more and more mainstream. Before the change.org petition, there was vigorous discussion on social media about changing the name of the city. As a measure of the growing support for the idea, the sportswriter Aaron Portzline observed on his Twitter account on June 14, 2020,  “It’s inevitable that Columbus, Ohio, will be renamed once enough people come to terms with the (awful) things Christopher did in addition to sailing ‘the ocean blue.’”

The petitioners discovered that a simple change.org campaign was insufficient to institute a name change. Neither the Columbus City Charter nor the Columbus City Codes outlined a process for changing the name of the city. But the petitioners did discover that a provision of the City Charter stated that where city charters are silent on a matter, state law was to be followed, and that law did indeed have a process for changing the name of a city. 

A petition could be filed in the Court of Common Pleas for a hearing on changing the name of the city. An important part of the state law said that proof must be offered that “At least three-fourths of the inhabitants of such municipal corporation desire the change.” Even though tens of thousands had signed the change.org petition, this was still well short of the over 600,000 signatures required.  

And so a renaming campaign began in earnest.  

A non-profit organization was formed with the goal of rallying the citizens of Columbus around the idea of the need to change the name of the city. The organization was started by a grassroots committee of community organizers, and was soon joined by a number of prominent civic leaders in government, the University, and many arts and cultural organizations. They began a series of city-wide discussions on the work of anti-racism writers such as Ibram X. Kendi, conversations which counseled participants that the effort to change the name of the city was not intended to make others feel guilty. The Columbus Metropolitan Library and the Columbus Museum of Art took leadership roles in facilitating these conversations. The theme of TEDxColumbus in 2023 was “Anti-racism.” That same year, The Big Table discussions centered around the need to rename the city.

There was a significant chorus of voices against renaming the city.  While not against the ideas behind the name change, these citizens nevertheless voiced concerns that this re-brand was just an effort to make money, or was nothing more than a PR stunt for the city. They wondered whether a name change really reflected a fundamental change in thinking about attitudes toward the past and Columbus’ colonizing legacy.    

After a half-decade of often contentious public debate, the requisite three-fourths support was finally achieved, paving the way for the creation of the city of Scioto, Ohio.  

During the public debates, serious concerns were raised that the big firms in town would move their headquarters elsewhere. One large employer did in fact leave (they were planning on leaving anyway), but other companies lined up to move their operations, eager to establish a presence in Scioto.  

After the name change, some organizations kept the “Columbus” in their names. Indeed, retaining the name Columbus becomes a symbolic act, with these groups continuing to maintain that remaining “Columbus” is a way to celebrate “heritage.”

Although Columbus had always been in the running—always a bridesmaid–the Democratic Party announced that their 2028 Convention would be held in Scioto as a way to honor the achievement—and to attach its platform to the luster Scioto now displayed.  

The local professional sports teams rebranded. The Scioto Clippers were the first (after debate about whether to retain the name “Clippers”). The Crew became Scioto FC, and that jersey, for awhile, became a top seller world-wide, next to Manchester United and Barcelona jerseys. Even non-soccer fans lined up to buy them, drawn to the symbolism of a major city de-colonizing their name. While debate continues to rage over the MLB team in Atlanta’s continued use of “Braves” for their nickname, Scioto FC has become a globally-recognized name.

Even after the official name change, there remains to this day a vocal minority who regularly protest. Although their numbers are relatively small, every year on the former Columbus Day in October there are small marches and demonstrations. Indeed, Scioto becomes a focal point for such protesters, who arrive from around the country seeking the restoration and rectification of the name Columbus. 

As this scenario demonstrates, many significant cultural and political changes will need to transpire before the city could even contemplate officially changing its name.  

David Staley is Director of the Humanities Institute and a professor at The Ohio State University. He is host of the “Voices of Excellence” podcast and president of Columbus Futurists.

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