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‘What do we celebrate?’: Charlotte City Council to consider changes to 10 street names

CHARLOTTE — Charlotte city councilors will consider whether or not to change the names of 10 street names that honor slavery, slave owners, Confederate veterans, supporters of white supremacy or romanticize notions of the antebellum south.

Channel 9 first reported the plan earlier this month when the Legacy Commission recommended that Charlotte erase any street name that honors these notions.

The commission identified 10 streets they’d like to see changed and asked residents to submit feedback on their proposed changes by Dec. 13.

[LINK: Leave your feedback here]

“I think, Charlotte in 2020, we want to be a welcoming, inclusive city that values and respects all its residents,” said Emily Zimmern, chair of the Legacy Commission. “We want to make sure the people we are honoring, in fact, reflect the values we hold so dear.”

The council will listen to the commission’s report at its meeting Monday night. According to their agenda, no action will be taken.

The 10 streets being recommended for change are spread throughout Charlotte. They are:

  1. Jefferson Davis Street
  2. West Hill Street
  3. Stonewall Street
  4. Jackson Avenue
  5. Phifer Avenue
  6. Aycock Lane
  7. Barringer Drive
  8. Morrison Boulevard
  9. Governor Morrison Street
  10. Zebulon Avenue

“History is what happened in the past, but commemoration, such as a monument or a street is, what do we celebrate? What do we raise up and want to honor today?” Zimmern said. “We hope the community will recommend and suggest people who have built this city whose story we need to hear and who we need to raise up.”

The list includes Barringer Drive in west Charlotte. The commission says brothers Paul and Osmand Barringer worked to advance the ideals of white supremacy. Osmand fought against desegregation at Charlotte public facilities. The street is home to dozens of residents.

Zebulon Avenue in Smallwood is also in question. No one lives on it, but there is plenty of land for development and a couple of businesses. It is named after North Carolina’s former Confederate Gov. Zebulon Vance.

The commission also wants to rename a tiny street in Druid Hills, a historically Black neighborhood. It includes Jeff Davis Street, which is named after Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederate states.

“A lot of people say it is all part of history, but if it is going to be negative, I think that they should change it,” said Ricky Winchester, a Druid Hills resident.

Winchester’s house is next to Jeff Davis Street, and he said he didn’t connect the dots on the name until now. But he said he has no problem changing the name and applauds the city for taking a hard look at who these addresses are honoring.

“You’re going to piss some people off, but this is not a perfect world,” he said. “It is what it is.”

Perhaps the most prominent street slated for change is East Stonewall Street in uptown. The street is named after Stonewall Jackson, a prominent Confederate general.

The commission said if the street is renamed, civil rights icon Julius Chambers would be a fitting person to name it after. Chambers developed the East Independence Plaza office tower at 700 East Stonewall Street, the current location of the now vacant Walton Plaza. At the time, the office tower was one of the few Black-developed office towers in the U.S. Chambers’ law firm occupied the top floor.

[WSOC SECTION: Talking About Race]

When naming streets in the future, the commission recommends the city consider the following criteria when naming a street after a person:

  • Give priority to those who have had a significant connection to Charlotte and contributed to the city’s progress.
  • Honor individuals who represent the diversity of the city’s history.
  • Honor individuals whose contributions have been overlooked in the past (African Americans, Native Americans, Latinx, Asians, women.)

The commission said to ensure the benefit of historical judgment, no street should be named for a living person and not until the person has been dead for at least five years.

The commission is seeking feedback on what the streets should be renamed to. Suggested figures worthy of consideration are:

  • Dr. Reginald Hawkins
  • Ishmael Titus
  • Harry Golden
  • Count Vincent de Rivafinoli
  • Julius Chambers
  • King Hagler
  • Kelly Alexander Senior
  • Annie Alexander
  • Elizabeth “Libby” Randolph
  • Elisabeth “Liz” Hair
  • Gladys Tillett

The commission provided the following reasons why the 10 streets should be renamed.

Jefferson Davis Street: During the Civil War, Jefferson Davis served as president of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865. By the 1880s, former Confederates saw him as a hero of the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy. Jefferson had no extensive ties to Charlotte beyond retreating to the city during the last days of the Civil War and holding his final executive cabinet meeting at William Phifer’s home. There is a Jefferson Davis Street located in the Druid Hills community in west Charlotte.

West Hill Street: Daniel H. Hill was a Confederate officer who spent time before and after the Civil War in Charlotte. West Hill Street is named in his honor. The street is in uptown Charlotte and extends east from McNinch Street to Eldridge Street just outside of the Bank of America Stadium.

Stonewall Street and Jackson Avenue: Military historians regard Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson as the Confederate’s most gifted tactical commander. His military exploits became legendary and were an essential element of the ideology of the “Lost Cause.” There are multiple streets named in honor of Stonewall Jackson. The most prominent is East Stonewall Street, which is in uptown Charlotte. There is also a Stonewall Jackson Homes Drive located at 5751 Airport Drive off West Boulevard. According to a 1947 Charlotte News article, Jackson Avenue, which is located off East 10th Street directly across from Piedmont Open IB Middle School, is also named in honor of Stonewall Jackson.

Phifer Avenue: William Phifer, who was originally from Catawba and relocated to Charlotte in 1852, owned approximately 28 enslaved African Americans. Phifer Avenue connects North Tryon Street to North College Street between East Ninth and East 11th streets.

Aycock Lane: Aycock Lane is most likely named in honor of Charles Aycock. He served as the state’s 50th governor at the beginning of 1900. Aycock is remembered as the primary architect of the state’s white supremacy movement, which was responsible for disenfranchising African Americans. The street is in a subdivision just south of Dilworth, which is off Scaleybark Road.

Barringer Drive: Brothers Paul B. Barringer and Osmand M. Barringer actively worked to advance ideals rooted in white supremacy. Paul became a leader in the field of “scientific” racism at the University of Virginia in the late 1800s. Osmand was a leader in the local white supremacy club movement in Charlotte at the turn of the 20th century. Osmand also fought against the desegregation of public facilities in Charlotte in the 1950s. According to Osmand, Barringer Drive was named in his honor. The street is in west Charlotte. It extends south from West Boulevard, snaking across Remount Road and Clanton Road before coming to an end at Pressley Road.

Morrison Boulevard and Governor Morrison Street: Cameron A. Morrison was a prominent leader of the “Red Shirts,” which was the paramilitary wing of the state Democratic Party’s white supremacy campaign that worked to suppress and terrorize Black voters in North Carolina in the late 1890s. In 1920, Morrison successfully ran for governor of North Carolina on the platform that he fought gloriously for the cause of white supremacy. Morrison served as the state’s 55th governor and is commonly referred to as the “Good Roads Governor.” Under his leadership, the government systematically made use of Black convict labor to help build state roads. Morrison Boulevard and Governor Morrison Street are named in his honor.

Zebulon Avenue: Zebulon Baird Vance was North Carolina’s Confederate governor from 1862 to 1865. His reelection as governor in 1877 symbolized the return to power of slavery-era leaders. Zebulon Avenue is in the Smallwood community off Rozzelles Ferry Road.