Atlanta City Council votes to rename Confederate Avenue

Confederate is on its way out and United is on its way in.

That was the unanimous decision of the Atlanta City Council on Monday afternoon regarding the name change of perhaps the city’s most hotly debated street moniker, Confederate Avenue. The 11-0 vote was expected, the culmination of a months-long effort by South Atlanta neighbors to replace the name of a thoroughfare that courses through Grant Park and Ormewood Park.

Confederate Avenue and East Confederate Avenue will become United Avenue and United Avenue S.E. by the end of the month, at least on paper.

“It’s something that most people on the street have wanted to see for a long time,” said Jeremy Gray, one of the Confederate Avenue residents who helped lead the effort to get a new name. “That it passed unanimously says a lot for the city.”

The measure, which was sponsored by City Council member Carla Smith, now goes to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for her signature. It could become law in the next eight days, unless the mayor vetoes it. Even if Bottoms doesn’t sign the measure immediately and it just stays on her desk, it’ll become law after eight days.

Street signs display the intersection of East Confederate Avenue SE and Confederate Court SE in Atlanta on Sept. 6, 2018.

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Once it’s official, the new signs could begin going up in late November or early December. Smith cautioned, however, that the name probably won’t “feel” official until January 2019, when a ceremony is planned to mark the change during the Martin Luther King Day holiday.

Last month, residents of the affected neighborhoods sounded off on the effort at a public "listening session" called by Smith. The majority of commenters supported the change, saying it was long past time that the contentious name be replaced. They said it reflected a racist, traitorous ideology and was offensive and embarrassing.

But opponents said any change was an affront to their heritage as Southerners and a “politically correct” attempt to erase a portion of the South’s history. They said they were offended that anyone supporting the name change would brand as racist those who wanted it left alone.

RELATED: Photos: Confederate memorials in metro Atlanta

RELATED: Map: Atlanta streets named for the Confederacy

Monday’s vote was met with no such debate. Instead, Council President Felicia Moore congratulated Smith on pushing the measure through. After the council meeting, one of the neighbors who led the renaming effort said the vote was a signal moment not just for his neighborhood but for the city.

“Hallelujah, they did the right thing,” said Atiba Mbiwan, who was reached by phone after the meeting. “”We think the process we used was an example and model for others who are grappling with this issue, whether it be street names or monuments. The process is key. You want all views to have an opportunity to be expressed.”

As part of a months-long neighborhood effort to come up with a new name, residents along Confederate Avenue and East Confederate Avenue submitted possible choices, including "Soldiers," "Phoenix" and "Considerate" to the informal Grant Park neighborhood group leading the charge. They mailed in ballots. "United" garnered the most votes and was submitted to Smith to add to the legislation in August.

While an Atlanta city ordinance requires 75 percent of households on a thoroughfare to agree to a name change, the law does not regulate how a new name should be chosen.

A third street, Confederate Court, will be renamed Trestletree Court, after apartment buildings that are on the street. The owners of the property chose the name, Smith said. That name change was also included in Monday’s vote.

Two young boys walk along Confederate Avenue SE in Atlanta on Sept. 6, 2018.

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A retirement home for Confederate veterans, a large brick building, was located in the area and went out of operation in the early 1960s. That is how the streets got their name. The renaming effort grew after the killing of activist Heather Heyer last year in Charlottesville, Va., as she counterprotested during a demonstration by white separatists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The “Unite the Right” rally was held to condemn the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

The immediate renaming of the two avenues was a recommendation of an 11-member advisory committee set up last fall by then-Mayor Kasim Reed and the City Council. Before it dissolved in November, the Advisory Committee on City of Atlanta Street Names and Monuments Associated with the Confederacy suggested several actions the city should take to remove or address Confederate iconography. Smith and fellow City Council member Michael Julian Bond are part of a new, three-member panel charged with coming up with a plan to implement the advisory committee's recommendations.