They still look the same… the vast reaches of the Santa Monica Mountains.

But something has changed. Something rare, almost unheard of.

“The Board of Geographic Names gets between 200 and 250 requests each year… some of them never get approved.”

But one request — did.

A two-thousand foot peak, known for more than a hundred years as Negrohead Mountain… now bears the name – Ballard Mountain.

We all feel a sense of overwhelming relief. On one hand, the expression I can give is … ahhhhh….

To understand that relief – to understand why the mountain’s name was changed – we have to travel back in time…to the 1850s…when an African American named John Ballard, somehow made his way from the slave-owning state of Kentucky to the Los Angeles area.

“He was very much a black pioneer”

Tracing the history of the Ballards – Moorpark College Professor Patty Colman.

“They are pillars of the community. They own property. They are listed as the elders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.”

Ballard homesteaded 160 acres at the base of the mountain. And locals soon began using a racial slur to describe it.

“Over time, what started happening is instead of being called “racial slur ballard hill” – it was just the racial slur. And then eventually it was just negro or Negrohead Mountain.”

Colman joined forces with some of the modern day locals – residents Paul Culberg and Nic Noxon – who convinced Los Angeles County and the U.S. Geological Survey to change that name.

“The greatest joy we’ve had out of this is actually doing something that Mr. Ballard would have thought highly improbable.”

And at a ceremony near Ballard’s old homestead, Negrohead Mountain was officially renamed Ballard Mountain.

“It says welcome to the site of Ballard Mountain, so named in honor of a courageous African American community leader…”

Attending the ceremony, about two dozen Ballard descendants.

“For him, it was about survival. His story is similar to so many others. Significant, but untold. Which is why today is so very very special for all of us.”

The plaque will be placed near the base of Ballard Mountain… a tribute welcomed by even the youngest generation of Ballards.

“I feel special. Yeah, once in a lifetime.”

Though “humbled” by the name change, the “elder” Ballards say it’s a call to action…

‘What are we going to do – to try and somehow measure up…”

A nineteenth century poet once wrote: “Bring me men to match my mountains.” Now the Ballards have a mountain to match a remarkable man.


WATCH THE NIGHTLY NEWS REPORT ON THE ‘NEGROHEAD’ NAME CHANGE HERE:

[MSNBCMSN video=”http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32545640″ w=”592″ h=”346″ launch_id=”35566249″ id=”msnbc4e511a”]

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