Time American City Was Almost Renamed Nairobi or Uhuru

  • Over the years, Nairobi has become synonymous with Kenya, boasting rich culture and unique features that earned it the moniker; the City under the sun.

    The original name was derived from a Maasai phrase Enkare Nyorobi, which translates to “place of cool waters”.

    However, Kenya’s capital could have shared the name with East Palo Alto – a city in Northern California, United States of America. 

    East Palo Alto Municipal Building
    An image of the East Palo Alto Municipal Building

    Dating back to 1945, during World War II, African-American migrants had moved to East Palo Alto in a bid to take advantage of low-cost housing. 

    According to a report by New York Times, the housing had a few restrictive agreements hence an ideal place for immigrants. 15 years later, jobs and the pursuit of higher education brought African-Americans in droves to the city. 

    The immigrant settlers, who mainly worked outside the city, were surrounded by rich whites who resided in San Francisco and San Jose. 

    At the time, East Palo Alto was governed by San Mateo county, signalling that its residents had little impact in the policies that were being used to govern the small city.

    As a result, the residents were heavily taxed in order to access day-to-day county services such as water, recreation and sanitation. 

    In a bid to gain a voice and gain its independent rule, the black leaders attempted to rename the city according to the African culture. Three names were proposed: Nairobi, Kenyatta and Uhuru. 

    A report by the Stanford Daily of April 4, 1968, reported that the East Palo Alto Municipal Council voted 3 to 1 in favor of the proposal to change the name to Nairobi.

    This, however, failed despite vigorous efforts by the local leaders and residents. This is after the older African Americans thought the initiative would split the community along age lines. Further, they thought that the name was associated with living in a diminished place.

    Despite the loss, the leaders did not give up, but instead set up a college, a high school, a primary school, a bank and a local shopping mall, bearing the name Nairobi. The institutions gained traction as they offered affordable services to the locals. 

    According to an international magazine published in September 1971, the Nairobi College offered 25 courses on everything from physics to black legal problems to Swahili.

    As the years passed, the Mexican race and Pacific Islanders replaced African Americans as the major demographic group in East Palo Alto. 

    An image of a leader who worked on the campaign in the 1960s to change East Palo Alto's name to Nairobi.
    An image of a leader who worked on the campaign in the 1960s to change East Palo Alto’s name to Nairobi.
    Ebony Magazine
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