City Council takes step toward removing street names linked to the confederacy

Monument Removal and Street Renaming Push
Street sign in New Orleans.
Street sign in New Orleans. (Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -Around the city, streets bear the names of men who were part of the confederacy or championed slavery and white supremacy and the New Orleans city council says time for change has arrived.

Councilman Jay Banks is one of the lead sponsors of a measure approved Thursday by the council which aims to get the ball rolling on changing street names, and names of parks and some other public places viewed as honoring the ideology of white supremacy.

“Now I realize that street names and monuments and statues are all symbolic, I get that, but it’s a start and it’s start that needs to happen,” said Banks.

Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer agrees. She said it is not about canceling portions of history.

“I’m simply not willing to entertain the argument of those who say that taking these down or changing them would somehow erase history. Books will still exist, the diaries, letters, newspaper accounts and a host of other sources will still exist,” said Palmer.

The council voted 6 to 0 to establish an advisory committee to provide recommendations and guiding principles for renaming certain public streets, parks, and other places.

Council members said during their meeting that many of the names went up on streets and other venues after the Civil War to deliberately perpetuate racism and white supremacy.

Council Vice President Helena Moreno expressed that in some of her comments.

“So, as we take a look at these street names, let’s look at what they were before they had these confederate names. If you take a look at, for example, Robert E. Lee, until 1911 it was actually called Adams Avenue, John Quincy Adams is a former president of the United States,” said Moreno.

And Council President Jason Williams expounded on that point.

“This is painful and this is hurtful and as a number of my colleagues have said it’s not as if a number of these names went up during the Civil War, these names went up to perpetuate control and power and to excuse the lynchings that occurred long after the Civil War.” Williams said.

The council holds virtual meetings due to the pandemic, so residents send in their comments on agenda items and the council received over a hundred on the renaming item. A council staffer spent an hour reading comments and did not finish reading all of them before the council stated that it had a consensus of what the public sentiment was and moved to take a vote. Many comments were supportive of removing the names of white supremacists, while others expressed opposition and some residents said the council should focus on more pressing matters.

Councilman Joe Giarrusso said the matter is not impeding the council’s work on other issues and needs.

“I really believe on this issue that we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” said Giarrusso.

The council has already proposed an ordinance to rename Jefferson Davis Parkway in honor of legendary Xavier University President Dr. Norman Francis.

Giarrusso said the council will work to help those who face expenses because of address changes that will accompany street name changes.

“To make sure, if and when street names get changed that it is as inconvenient, smally inconvenient, as possible and we can do our best to waive or limit those costs,” said Giarrusso.

And council members said the effort to rename public spaces is but a step toward tackling the problems of racism and inequality that plague society.

“We’ve got to be intentional to not only change the names of these symbols but to actually address the systematic things embedded throughout this country, education, health care, labor,” said Banks.

Photos of people who were part of the confederacy were removed from the U.S. Capitol on the same day the council passed its motion to establish the advisory committee.

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