The waning moments of the battle to change the name of two southeast Atlanta streets from “Confederate” to “United” played out Thursday night in Atlanta City Council chambers, where about 30 people showed up for a “listening session.”
For many of those listeners, what they heard was stunning.
David Moreland, who described himself as “an eighth-generation American and a sixth-generation Georgian” whose ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War and for the Confederacy in the Civil War, said renaming Confederate Avenue and East Confederate Avenue would be an abomination. Though he now lives in Meriwether County, he said he grew up in Atlanta and went to Atlanta public schools, where he and his classmates sang the song “Dixie” at school events and believed having a Confederate forebear was an honor.
“When I was a young boy, you were proud to be an Atlantan, proud to be a Georgian, proud to be a Southerner, and you were darn proud to be a descendant of Confederate ancestors,” Moreland said. “Is there any wisdom in tearing down Confederate Avenue? Is there any justice? There’s a road named in this town after my family. We’re descendants of slaveholders. Does that mean me and my two brothers should go to a concentration camp? My people are not white supremacists and I am not a Nazi. Where does this end, folks?”
The listening session was called by City Council member Carla Smith, who sponsored legislation to change the street names. While it appears very likely that Confederate and East Confederate avenues will get new names by early October, people continue to sound off either for or against it.
Last month, residents in the Grant Park and Ormewood Park neighborhoods, through which Confederate and East Confederate avenues run, voted to change the name of the streets to “United.” By city ordinance, 75 percent of property owners on a street must agree to any name change.
The overwhelming number of speakers on Thursday were supportive of “United.”
“I’m an American, and when I have to travel down Confederate Avenue, in my opinion it’s spitting in the face of the United States of America because it’s honoring a part of history where certain leaders of the Southern states committed an act of treason,” said Sonia Tetlow, who said she has lived just off East Confederate Avenue for 20 years. “To say otherwise is a historical lie. I don’t doubt that people who fought on the side of the Confederacy fought and died with honor, but they did not fight and die for an honorable cause.”
But Will Dean, who said he has lived on Confederate Avenue for the past 14 years, agrees with the sentiment that replacing the name is tantamount to erasing history. And he’s also concerned about the cost of changing his personal legal documents to reflect a new name.
“If you’re like me and you run a personal business, it’s a big deal and it’s a big time-waster and it’s expensive,” Dean said.
There’s a different price to pay if the name stays the same, said Kristy Marynek, who lives on Confederate Avenue. It would send the wrong signal to current and future generations, she said.
“I want to respond to a few things I’ve heard tonight, one that there’s a cost associated with changing the name,” Marynek said. “Every day I have to tell someone that I live on Confederate Avenue, and that cost to me is that it makes me sound as though I am complicit in continuing to stigmatize my brothers and sisters in reminding them of this painful history.”
Marynek, who has a 2-year-old son, is expecting another baby at the end of the year. While Confederate Avenue is on her son’s birth certificate, she said she is hopeful she’ll be able to put “United” on the new baby’s birth certificate.
A retirement home for Confederate veterans, a large brick building, was located on one end of the street 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 counterprotester Heather Heyer last year in Charlottesville, Va., during a rally of white separatists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The “Unite the Right” rally was being held to protest 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, who also attended Thursday’s listening session, are part of a new, three-member panel charged with coming up with a plan to implement the advisory committee’s recommendations.
The city’s utilities committee, which handles street name changes, will hold a public hearing on the Confederate Avenue designations during its meeting on Sept. 25 at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall.
The measure is expected to go before the full council for a vote on Oct. 3.
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