‘What’s in a name?’ Atlanta memorializes civil, human rights figures, plans to rename Confederate Avenue

By David Pendered

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare observed. Atlanta responds with plans to remove and replace the name Confederate Avenue on a Downtown street, following the renaming of Freedom Parkway for civil rights leader John Lewis and naming a future park for human rights figure Kathryn Johnston.

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John Lewis uses a moment of his speech at the dedication of the John Lewis Freedom Parkway to remind listerers, ‘we must get out and vote like we never have voted before.’ Credit: Kelly Jordan

Lewis delivered applause-winning remarks at the Aug. 22 unveiling of the newly named John Lewis Freedom Parkway. Among them:

  • “We have an election coming up and we must get out and vote like we never have voted before. We must do it. The vote is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non–violent tool we have in a democratic society.
  • “We must be mindful there are forces in America trying to take us back to another time, to another place. We’ve come too far, we’ve made too much progress and we are not going back. We are going forward…. We are one people. We are one family.”

Before the Aug. 23 dedication of the Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park, named for a 92-year-old woman fatally shot in 2006 by Atlanta police officers later convicted for killing her, planting marijuana in her house and otherwise violating her rights, Atlanta City Councilmember Ivory Lee Young, Jr. said:

  • “We should never forget Ms. Johnston’s contribution to her neighborhood, to this city and the world,” Young said Monday. “The park … will stand as a constant memorial to her as a person, and to the conditions that continue to rally against human beings.”
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Former Atlanta mayors Bill Campbell (left) and Shirley Franklin (center, striped blouse) joined in the celebration to unveil the newly named John Lewis Freedom Parkway. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Meanwhile, two proposals to rename Confederate Avenue are under consideration at Atlanta City Hall. One was submitted by the administration of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, the other in the form of legislation signed by a majority of city councilmembers.

Atlanta’s Department of Public Works submitted a request for review and comment on the proposal to rename Confederate Avenue and East Confederate Avenue. Replacement names have not been selected.

The city’s Urban Design Commission considered the request at its Aug. 22 meeting. The staff recommended the UDC send to Public Works the comments and findings of the commission and staff, which include a bit of history about how to road came to be named Confederate Avenue:

  • “It is unclear whether the name for this street was derived from the association of the Confederate Soldier’s Home being located along it. It is likely that the road which is now known as Confederate Ave. and East Confederate Ave. was an unpaved farm to market road which was not formalized until the early 20th century or shortly after the construction of the Confederate Soldier’s Home. This would have been during the “Lost Cause” period of Civil War and Confederate memorialization efforts.”
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John Lewis (center) stands before a newly unveiled street sign of the John Lewis Freedom Parkway. Joining him are Atlanta City Councilmembers Michael Julian Bond (left) and Andre Dickens, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bolttoms. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The staff also included a portion of the 2017 report by the city’s Confederate Monuments Advisory Committee:

  • “… the committee makes the following specific recommendations to the City Council and Mayor: …Immediately change Confederate Avenue, East Confederate Avenue, and any street named ager 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.”

The city council’s legislation would rename Confederate Avenue, East Confederate Avenue and Confederate Court. The council’s Utilities Committee voted Aug. 14 to hold the legislation until the committee convenes a public hearing, on Sept. 25.

Councilmember Carla Smith said she intends to convene a listening session on Sept. 20, at 6:30 p.m. at Atlanta City Hall. The purpose is to give residents a time to express their thoughts when they may be off their work at a daytime job.

“The residents on the street have been ready to do this for years,” Smith said. “The timing was right. They gave me a petition and they’ve been working diligently over the summer.”

 

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Civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Atlanta) arrives at the Aug. 22 dedication of the newly named John Lewis Freedom Parkway. Credit: Kelly Jordan

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

4 replies
  1. Steve Wise says:

    “Downtown street”? Confederate/East Confederate is nowhere near Downtown. It runs from Grant Park in a southeasterly direction to Moreland Avenue, and, like so many streets in Atlanta, when it crosses Moreland, its name changes to Skyhaven Road.Report

    Reply
  2. Chris Johnston says:

    Mr. Pendered, you have lived in Atlanta since 1982 and worked 26 years for the AJC. How is it that you do not know where Confederate Avenue is? And why did you decide that it was Downtown?Report

    Reply

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