Editor’s note: This story corrects an error in the second bullet point, regarding the proposed new name for East Confederate Avenue, SE.
By David Pendered
Atlanta’s Confederate Avenue is to be renamed United Avenue, ending years of debate over what – if anything – to do with a name that holds near mystical power. The former name may be memorialized with an historic marker – in keeping with a multi-national practice of augmenting, rather than removing, a controversial mark of history.
The entire renaming proposal calls for the following:
- Renaming Confederate Avenue S.E., in its entirety, to United Avenue, S.E.;
- Renaming East Confederate Avenue, S.E., in its entirety, to United Avenue, S.E.;
- Renaming Confederate Court, S.E., to Trestletree Court, S.E.;
- The ordinance shall take effect Jan. 21, 2019;
- The city’s Department of Public Works is authorized to design, make and install the new street signs.
The Atlanta City Council is slated to approve the measure at its Oct. 1 meeting.
The proposed renaming was such as slam dunk Tuesday that no members of the Atlanta City Council commented on the proposal at the meeting of the City Utilities Committee. Public comments were all in favor, during a public hearing the committee convened before the vote.
The committee vote was unanimous in favor of the renaming.
The legislation was introduced by Councilmember Carla Smith and signed by 13 of the council’s remaining 15 members. The only member who did not sign the paper is Councilmember Howard Shook, who represents the Buckhead area.
This final phase of the renaming has been years in the making, according to Smith, who represents the area. The area is a vortex of residents, some of whom object to the name Confederate Avenue.
“I have a little boy who just turned 3, and I’m so excited about raising him on United Avenue and not Confederate Avenue,” said Jennette Gayer, a resident of East Confederate Avenue.
The push to rename the streets gained steam following a fatal clash near a Confederate memorial in Charlottesville, Va., which contributed to then Mayor Kasim Reed’s decision to create an advisory board to consider the fate of the various memorials of the Confederacy in the City of Atlanta, to exclude private and state-owned property.
The advisory board voted Nov. 13, 2017 in favor of a host of recommendations regarding the handling of various memorials around the city that commemorate the Confederacy.
In regards to Confederate Avenue and the other two streets to be renamed, plus others in the city, the board advised:
- “Immediately change Confederate Avenue, East Confederate Avenue, and any street named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, John B. Gordon, Robert E. Lee, Stephen Dill Lee, or Howell Cobb. The aforementioned were significant Confederate military leaders and actively involved in white supremacist activities after the war, making them undeserving of the honor of a street name in Atlanta.”
In 2017, former Gov. Roy Barnes wrote in favor of removing Confederate emblems in a well-read opinion piece he posted on his law firm’s website. Barnes was the governor who successfully pushed in the 2001 legislative session to remove a Confederate emblem from the state flag. Barnes’ observed in his piece:
- “What I have always wondered when I saw those Confederate statues on the courthouse grounds is where is the memorial to those held in bondage? If in fact, the memorials are to a part of our history, shouldn’t history be told in full and not in part?
- “The carvings of Lee, Davis and Jackson shouldn’t be blown off the side of Stone Mountain, but there should be a telling of the story in truthful terms and not the mythical terms of Gone With The Wind. Truth is truth and only the complete history should be told.
- “We should examine each of the memorials and street names in this context. For example, Confederate Avenue in Atlanta running in front of the State Patrol in my mind should be changed. It sends the wrong message that the police power of the state is located on a street associated with slavery and suppression.”