After initial push, city’s efforts to weed out Confederate names lose momentum

Tuesday May 3rd, 2022 by Willow Higgins

Amid the July 2020 protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, the City of Austin passed a resolution pledging to remove or rename all city-owned assets, such as streets and buildings. , which have names commemorating the Confederacy or other white people. supremacist causes. The passing of this resolution is just one part of the city’s long history of efforts to change racially-derived names, but after years of preparation, the name-changing process is still ongoing.

Since the city began the process in 2017, only four of those assets have been renamed, despite a series of self-imposed deadlines.

“Our parks, our schools, our streets should be named after the people we want to honor. Not the people we are ashamed of,” said City Council member Natasha Harper-Madison, who sponsored the 2020 resolution. austin monitor. “We still need to know more about these people, but a book is a better way to learn. I wish we could rename everything tomorrow, but I understand that these names are meant to be permanent, so we have to do due diligence.

A series of resolutions

the July 2020 resolution was not the first of its kind in Austin. When the resolution passed, Council members had “already begun to engage with their respective constituents,” according to the resolution, in part because similar guidelines had already been adopted.

In October 2017, the Board first adopted a resolution calling for “vigorous public debate on the history of (Confederate) monuments and memorials”. The resolution asked for 1) recommendations to accomplish the removal or renaming of city property named after Confederate icons; 2) an analysis of the cost of moves, replacements or name changes; and 3) recommendations for disposal of artifacts of historical value, along with a report from the City Manager within 90 days.

Fast forward to July 2018, when the city’s equity office delivered a detailed report outlining a list of 14 priority assets for immediate review and a secondary list of 23 assets for the city to review with additional road information, which includes big names like Pease Park, Bouldin Creek, and even the name of the city. To write the report, the Equity Office assembled a task force of key city departments and historical experts and consulted with other cities that had undertaken similar efforts. The report ended with a list of next steps and recommendations.

“It is essential to recognize that societal values ​​are fluid, and that they can be and are different today than when our city decided to name and/or place these Confederate symbols in our community,” the memorandum read.

A 2018 report detailed a number of city assets to be renamed or reviewed.

“It is also important to recognize that almost all of the monuments to the Confederacy and its leaders were erected without a true democratic process. People of color often had no voice and no opportunity to voice their concerns about the city’s decision to honor Confederate leaders. This process not only draws attention to the restoration of the symbols of the Confederacy in our city, but creates a new opportunity for us to rename these symbols to commemorate the current values ​​and the legacy of those we choose to honor in the public spaces of our community.

The cost of renaming the 14 high priority assets scheduled for initial review was estimated at $5,956.23.

At the time of publication of the report, the renaming of two of the 14 assets was already underway. (Robert E. Lee Road and Jeff Davis Avenue were both successfully changed to Azie Morton Road and William Holland Avenue, respectively.)

The report advised that the Council member representing the area where the asset in question was located should take a stand on the name change and “seize the opportunity to recognize the contributions of women and people of color.”

So when Council passed the July 2020 resolution reaffirming its goal of renaming certain city assets, much of the work had already been done. The updated resolution was designed to lay out what had already been accomplished and set things in motion.

The resolution also instructed the city manager to select “a cohort of at least five, but no more than 10 city assets with latent Confederate history to go through this process during each six-month period beginning Sept. 1.” 2020″.

Just before the process was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic in December 2020, the Deputy Director General published the first cohort of assets:

  • Metz leisure center, including Metz park and Metz swimming pool (district 3)
  • Dixie Drive (district 2)
  • Confederate Street (District 9)
  • Plantation Road (District 5 and District 8)

Two years after the list was published, only two items have moved forward.

The Metz leisure center in the 3rd arrondissement has been renamed Rodolfo “Rudy” Mendez Recreation Center in the summer of 2020.

Confederate Street, one of the more egregious names, is currently being changed and should be completed in June 2022. After the sign change is complete, the Austin Department of Transportation expects the process to cost just over $281.

“Words are really important”

Cheyenne Weaver, a local artist and community activist, worked to push forward the Confederate Street renaming.

“How hard is it to do that? Weaver told the Monitor. “Looks like he needed another kick. I recognize that Confederate Street is a small street, but a lot of people I spoke to had never heard of it.

Weaver walked the streets of Clarksville, where the future Confederate Street is located, handing out flyers and chatting with neighbors. By the end of her efforts, she had accumulated around 300 signatures on a petition to change the name. While board member Kathie Tovo’s office was already working on getting the name changed, Weaver thought her conversations were a good exercise in community engagement and awareness.

“Most people (I spoke to) were like, Oh my God, thank you,” Weaver said. “There were a few people who were just a little weird about changing the story, which is a common reaction for a certain contingency of people…. We live in a very nice city, people are nice to each other, people are willing to have conversations. I don’t know if I changed my mind, but most people were willing to let me explain things.

Harper-Madison received similar comments. “There are people who feel like if you rename things, you rewrite them,” she said. “But we don’t rewrite, we just get correct.”

Weaver’s outreach focused on the fact that the Clarksville neighborhood historically became a freedmen’s area after being a slave neighborhood – one of the first freedmen’s towns. established west of the Mississippi – manufacturing it is particularly disrespectful to be named after the Confederacy. While researching Austin’s history, Weaver discovered Maggie Mayes, a former Austin resident and black educator who had a profound impact on the Clarksville neighborhood. Next June, Confederate Street will become Maggie Mayes Street.

Harper-Madison is optimistic that over time the city of Austin will rebrand all of its assets that have names rooted in white supremacy. But it will take time, she said, and it will likely take activism, especially from white people, to get there.

“I think there are enough really nice, caring white people out there who are going to pick up their neighbors and their friends and family members and say, we have to do better,” Harper-Madison said. “When they do that, it will happen.”

In February this year, the Equity Office published its most recent note on this, stating that it is “developing a database that builds on the 2018 report that identified primary and secondary assets for review” to make it easier for the city council when renaming. The memo promised a SpeakUp Austin page by the end of February to generate community feedback, but instead went live earlier this month after being translated into the five major languages ​​spoken in the city. .

The next update is scheduled for September this year.

“Words are really important,” Weaver said. “There is almost a magic in words to convey what our culture thinks is important. So when we hold back words that honor things that are times in history that have been really oppressive and that are symbols of things that are huge inequalities and dramatic events like slavery, those things affect us , all of us. I don’t want to live in a city that thinks it’s OK.

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