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'A direct affront.' Charlotte streets may be renamed over Confederacy, white supremacy ties

'A direct affront.' Charlotte streets may be renamed over Confederacy, white supremacy ties

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CHARLOTTE — Nine Charlotte streets named after people with ties to the Confederacy, white supremacy, segregation or slavery should be renamed, a panel commissioned by the city recommended Wednesday.

The Legacy Commission was formed in June by Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles in the wake of protests over the police killing of George Floyd and a nationwide reckoning with the history of racism in America.

The members of the commission, appointed by the mayor and City Council, released a report detailing the draft recommendations alongside a survey sent to the public Wednesday.

The 15-member group, composed of local historians and other community members, has been meeting since August. They reviewed an initial list of over 70 street names in Charlotte associated with slavery, Confederate veterans, white supremacy or "romanticized notions of the antebellum South."

The commission will share an update with the council Dec. 14 on the final recommendations, which will be informed by public feedback. The city has final say on any name changes, and city spokesman Jeremy Mills said the council will decide how to proceed after that presentation.

Virtually every street named after a person in Charlotte before the late 1800s honors a family that enslaved people, the report concluded.

Because of that, the group decided to put the highest priority on renaming streets named for Confederate leaders and those in charge of the statewide white supremacy campaign that began in 1898, said Emily Zimmern. She is the chairwoman of the commission and a former director and president of the Levine Museum of the New South.

"The Legacy Commission believes that the continued memorialization of slave owners, Confederate leaders and white supremacists on street signs does not reflect the values that Charlotte upholds today and is a direct affront to descendants of the enslaved and oppressed African Americans who labored to build this city," the group wrote.

Confederate monuments

The commission also reviewed Confederate monuments in Charlotte but is not recommending moving or taking them down.

According to the report, the monuments in Elmwood Cemetery are the only ones in public spaces that the city controls. The commission determined that the memorials are appropriate in a cemetery, but is suggesting adding interpretive panels to contextualize monuments and markers related to the Confederacy.

Zimmern said changing street names is not about erasing history, but rather making sure people who are being honored uphold the values of the city. She noted that Nazi markers were removed in Germany after World War II, and monuments taken down after the fall of the Soviet Union.

"History didn't change, but what is it you honor? What is it you commemorate? What is it you celebrate?" she said.

Streets on the list

Here are the street names being recommended for changes. The public can submit feedback on the proposals on the city's website or email charlottedot@charlottenc.gov by Dec. 13.

Stonewall Street: Named for Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson, this street runs through what was the Black neighborhood of Brooklyn, before it was destroyed during urban renewal in the 1960s and '70s. It ends at Bank of America Stadium, once home to the first private hospital built exclusively for Black people in the state and also the site of the first documented lynching in Mecklenburg County.

Jackson Avenue: Also named after Stonewall Jackson, this street is off of East 10th Street just outside of uptown.

Jefferson Davis Street: This street in the Druid Hills community is named after the former president of the Confederacy. He had no ties to Charlotte, the report found, but retreated to the city during the final days of the Civil War and held his final executive cabinet meeting here.

West Hill Street: Daniel H. Hill was a Confederate officer who was born in York County, S.C., and spent time in Charlotte, where he died in 1889. He also served on the faculty of Davidson College. The street is near Bank of America stadium.

Phifer Avenue: William Phifer was one of the biggest slaveowners in Charlotte. His property served as the headquarters for a Confederate general who led the attack on Fort Sumter and hosted the last meeting of the Confederate cabinet. Phifer Avenue is in uptown near the northern side of Interstate 277.

Aycock Lane: This street in south Charlotte is likely named for Charles Aycock, who served as governor of North Carolina and was the primary architect of the state's white supremacy movement that emerged in 1898 and led to the disenfranchisement of Black North Carolinians.

Barringer Drive: Osmand Barringer of the prominent Barringer family has said this street was named after him. He was the leader of a local white supremacy club and fought the desegregation of Charlotte's public facilities in the 1950s. The street is in West Charlotte, snaking south from West Boulevard to Pressley Road.

Morrison Boulevard: Cameron A. Morrison, the former governor, was a white supremacist and a leader of the "Red Shirts," a paramilitary group that terrorized and suppressed Black voters in the 1890s. The name of Morrison Library was recently changed to SouthPark Regional Library because of this history. The street is in south Charlotte next to SouthPark Mall.

Zebulon Avenue: Zebulon Baird Vance served as Confederate governor, then later as the state's governor, a congressman and U.S. senator. The street is in the Smallwood neighborhood off of Rozzelles Ferry Road. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools renamed a school named after Vance in October.

Reckoning with a legacy

The commission is also recommending the city educate residents about its history of slavery, segregation and white supremacy, and the lasting impacts. For example, the report determines, the city could provide educational materials to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and post online historical resources.

"I think this an overdue thing, a courageous thing," community historian and commission member Tom Hanchett said of the group's work. "It is a small step toward healing."

Charlotte policy makers and the media contributed to the rise of white supremacy in the late 1800s, according to the report. The Charlotte Observer, for instance, published racist articles and political cartoons designed to stoke racial tensions.

A white supremacist coup and massacre in Wilmington in 1898 occurred on the heels of a statewide white supremacy campaign. The movement also resulted in the disenfranchisement of Black citizens through poll taxes and literacy tests, the commission said.

The report also concluded that the Lost Cause movement played a role in Charlotte. That was a movement through which white Southerners sought to portray the Civil War as a battle for states' rights rather than to establish a separate nation built on slavery.

As an example of that movement, the report cited the Elmwood Cemetery monument to the Confederate dead that was erected by the city in 1887. During a reunion of Confederate veterans which Charlotte hosted in 1929, the city erected a marker that reads that those same men "preserved the Anglo-Saxon civilization of the South."

New names to consider

The report also suggests the city look at naming future streets after individuals who have contributed to Charlotte's progress, including those who have been overlooked in the past, such as Black, Latinx, Native American and female Charlotteans.

A list published in the report of possible names includes civil rights activists and leaders such as Julius Chambers, Kelly Alexander Sr. and Dr. Reginald Hawkins.

It also lists prominent female leaders such as Annie Alexander, the first woman to practice medicine in the South, and Elizabeth "Liz" Hair, the first woman elected to the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners.

Additional figures suggested include Native American leader King Hagler (an anglicized spelling of the name of the former Catawba "head man") and Harry Golden, a Jewish writer and publisher involved with the civil rights movement.

The report suggests Stonewall Street could be named for Chambers, a renowned civil rights lawyer.

Local NAACP leader Corine Mack said that while renaming streets would be symbolic changes, she's hopeful the momentum builds to allow for deeper discussions about systemic injustice in the city.

"I think this is a good thing ... but there is a real conversation that needs to be had," she said. "The political history of this country is founded on Black people. For me, changing the names are symbolic but doesn't do anything for the systemic racism we deal with every day."

Mack recommends the streets be renamed after Black national leaders, especially "strong and courageous women like Fannie Lou Hamer."

Zimmern said that changing street names is one piece in a broader movement toward creating equal opportunity.

"By changing the symbolic landscape you're sort of setting a marker: this is who we want to be, and you need to change the policies and the systems to make it so," she said.

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