Confederate Street Names Spark Controversy

By TIMMY CHONG

Takoma Park may not have any Confederate statues to take down, but dialogue has risen on whether or not ridding the city of Confederate street names should be on the agenda.

In response to the race riots in Charlottesville, the ousting of white supremacist ideals has been a growing trend throughout the nation that has manifested here in Maryland in a number of ways.

Confederate statues in Baltimore, Rockville and Ellicott City have recently been removed or relocated. The University of Maryland marching band declared in August that they would stop playing the state song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” at sports games due to its pro-Confederate heritage.

At the Sept. 13 City Council meeting, the Mayor and Council discussed the renaming of controversial streets and parks that might be honoring the Confederacy. Lee Ave., Jackson Ave., Boyd Ave., among others, may be named after people associated with the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

There is also controversy in the history behind street names such as Grant Ave. and Sherman Ave., while, though not Confederate, honor military individuals who savagely attacked Native Americans in the 19th century. A full list of the controversial street names in the city can be found in the notes from the Sept. 13 Takoma Park City Council Meeting.

While the origin of some street names may be unclear, “it may be that the history doesn’t matter. It may be that something feels objectionable so you should change it,” said city manager Suzanne Ludlow at the City Council meeting.

The primary reason for renaming these streets is to more fittingly reflect the city’s progressive ideals and inclusive values. Members of the city council unanimously agreed that the process of renaming controversial streets warrants discussion and should be further flushed out.

While the names of parks, like Jackson-Boyd, are relatively easy to change, renaming streets comes with a variety of challenges.

According to the Address and Street Naming Guidelines and Procedures Manual for Montgomery County, a renaming request must include a petition with signatures from all residences and businesses on the street–in other words, there must be 100 percent consensus.

“In Takoma Park, as lefty as people like to categorize us, I don’t think you can get 100 percent consensus on any issue,” said council member Rizzy Qureshi.

However, this renaming process is tailored for residents– there is no procedure for a city to rename streets. But according to the City Council notes, “Montgomery County has indicated that under the circumstances, the City may be able to bypass the petition process by entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the County.”

Regardless, renaming streets would pose a large burden on residents and businesses. They must alter information on formal documents and government records, as well as notify a slew of agencies.

“I do understand that there are a lot of formal documents for address changes,” said Councilmember Jarrett Smith. “But the people that suffered during these times, we also have to recognize what they went through, and you know, the history of the state of Maryland.”

Additionally, several council members pointed out that the process is arduous. Councilmembers Fred Schultz and Terry Seamens also said that there are more prominent issues at hand and that city staff already have their hands full.

In an interview with Historic Takoma President Diana Kohn on the Talk of Takoma radio show, Kohn questioned “whether the time you spend trying to change one street name is worth the effort that could better go into a serious discussion and reflection on the other facets of our history above and beyond the confederate and confederate soldiers.”

The process of renaming streets in Takoma Park is only in the early stages, but the Council said that they plan to take a two-front approach to the issue–through the county, and through the community, spearheaded by Historic Takoma’s Commemoration Commission.

The City Council soon plans to reach out to the community and affected residents for input and opinions.

About the Author

Timmy Chong
Timmy Chong is a senior and the only frat boy studying journalism and poetry at the University of Maryland. He works for Takoma Voice and Unwind Magazine, and will be writing for Capital News Service in Washington this spring. He has poetry published with or forthcoming in Rising Phoenix Press, Atticus Review, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, New Pop Lit and Stylus, among others. ΣΦΕ

2 Comments on "Confederate Street Names Spark Controversy"

  1. Thanks for raising this interesting — and potentially controversial — topic. I’ve been thinking about it too. Maybe people who don’t like having Takoma Park streets named after Confederate generals will bring this up to the City Council and the wider community.

  2. Bruce Andersen | November 7, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Reply

    I have always found it amusing that Lee is flanked by Grant, Sherman and Hancock. Lincoln is just off to the side. I like that the neighborhood is referred to as General Carroll’s addition, or simply as The Generals.

    My g-g-grandfather fought with the 12th Illinois Cavalry Regiment and I am a member of the Sons of Union Veterans. I live on Lee and I think that there are more important issues to worry about.

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