Stone Mountain City Council votes to rename street linked to KKK

The Stone Mountain City Council voted Thursday night to rename a street named after a family with heavy historical ties to the Ku Klux Klan.

Venable Street will be renamed to “Eva Mamie Lane” to recognize Eva Jewell Greene and Mamie Ella Lane, a mother-daughter duo considered pillars of Shermantown, the historically African-American community in Stone Mountain.

The council approved the renaming with five voting in favor and one abstaining. Venable Street was named for the family that used to own Stone Mountain; several members of the family were prominent members of the KKK, according to archives and records.

“It was time for a change to take place,” said Lydia Shumake, the niece and cousin of Greene and Lane. She said her family members “made such an impact in the community, a lot of people didn’t even realize what they did years ago.”

Councilwoman Diana Roe Hollis was the sole abstaining vote. She said she would have preferred to rename two streets to honor Greene and Lane separately.

The women were known for their outreach efforts, the leadership-based organizations they founded and the charity they provided to those in need. Greene died in 2006 at age 85, and her daughter died earlier this year at 77.

Residents and leaders in Stone Mountain — which is now about two-thirds black — said changing the street name is a way to shed the negative stigma that accompanies the city’s history. After the vote passed, loud cheers filled the small City Council chambers.

In Stone Mountain, Lane and Greene are remembered for the outreach organizations they founded and led: The DeKalb Economic Opportunity Authority, the Stone Mountain Negro Civic League, the DeKalb Neighborhood Leadership Institute and the Georgia Citizens Coalition on Hunger.

The two women were strong community advocates and organizers. In 1963, Lane turned a building at the corner of Venable and Third streets into the House of Bethel Prayer Chapel. There, she was known for holding prayer groups every Tuesday and doing outreach ministry.

“I have not seen the community come out like this” for any other issue, Councilwoman Chakira Johnson said during the meeting Thursday, recognizing the passion of the residents.

The city will rename the entire length of Venable Street, which is less than half a mile long in the Shermantown neighborhood. The effort to change the name has been in the works for months.

The physical street signs will be changed in about three weeks, after the street name is changed on DeKalb County’s digital maps, the city said.

It's unclear exactly when the street was originally named, and whether it was named after a specific member of the Venable family. Brothers William and Samuel Venable previously owned Stone Mountain, which they used as a granite quarry. They gave the Klan permission to meet at the mountain, where the group staged a cross burning and "rebirth" in 1915, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution archives. When the Venables sold the property to the state in the 1950s, it was designated to become a memorial to the Confederacy.

Decades later, James Venable became the Imperial Wizard of the National Knights of the Klan for nearly 25 years — a fact noted in his obituary that ran in The New York Times. He was also a mayor of Stone Mountain, using the nearby land for annual Klan rallies, newspaper stories stated.

Shermantown residents remember seeing the KKK march through town in the 1960s on their way to the mountain.

“Venable Street — we know the history,” said Vanessia Cummings, a resident who made the initial request to rename the street. “We’re not going to give that any more energy.”

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