Community Conversation: The importance of street names and knowing when to change them

One community leader says if the city can move fast to change nine street names - she believes they should move quickly to change other issues that are plaguing communities that often feel marginalized.
Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 8:07 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Many are relieved Charlotte City Council unanimously approved to change nine street names that were named after Confederate leaders and white supremacists.

In a Community Conversation with city councilman Malcolm Graham and community advocate Melissa Gaston - they believe those streets should not have been named after those people.

“It’s really befitting and important as a progressive city like Charlotte, NC that we take steps necessary to correct a wrong,” Charlotte City Councilman Malcolm Graham said. “It was wrong to honor confederate soldiers - individuals who lost the war. Where else do we honor losers and give them a permanent place in our community, especially on a street that houses African Americans.”

Research shows there were about 70 streets named after people who supported slavery.

“It just turns my stomach to hear that,” Community Advocate Melissa Gaston said. “And to know that that exists - we need to change it. We are changing nine - that means we got 61 more to go so we have a lot of work to do to change those street names.”

Gaston’s late husband - Darryl Gaston - was a proponent of a name change of Jefferson Davis Street. Davis was a leader of the Confederacy and Jefferson Davis Street was the first one to be renamed. It will now be known as Druid Hills Way.

Gaston says her husband would be proud.

“For me - it is a significant thing,” Gaston said. “When they first talked about changing the name of the street - he was all for it. He reached out to owners who didn’t still live in Charlotte, but had a connection to Jefferson Davis Street because they owned property or lived there for a significant period and he said this is what’s happening - I want you to provide your input - so they did.”

Gaston says if the city of Charlotte can move fast to change nine street names - she believes they should move quickly to change other issues that are plaguing communities that often feel marginalized.

“I’m on the Central Advisory Council for the parks,” she said. “And so they have a list of all the parks in the area and the parks that are all in disrepair and in need are all in Black and Brown communities - why is that. Those are the things we need to address. It’s the streets - some streets are paved every year - when you drive down it’s like “dang” it’s getting paved again and you have streets here that have potholes and all those kinds of things, so those are the things we need to do immediately.”

Graham says city leaders were motivated to make the street name change sooner rather than later because of the racial unrest that has made headlines.

“I think it’s just an awakening,” Graham said. “And we also have a different generation of leadership - a different time and space where people now are very conscious about race and they’re talking about it. Once upon a time, the issue of race was a tabued subject. We didn’t talk about it publicly. We talked about it at church - around kitchen tables. Now people are talking race in public forums.”

When it comes to the other eight streets that are slated to get a new name - expect community input. That is important.

Members of the committee who helped come up with recommendations on renaming the street say since Charlotte has a legacy of racial discrimination, there has been a denial of African Americans and other people of color to fully participate in government.

Graham and Gaston are happy neighbors will have input renaming streets.

The new street sign of Druid Hills Way is scheduled to be unveiled on Sept. 25.

“I’m going to be right there,” Gaston said. “I’m going to be right there and be happy that street is changing because it’s going to erase negative history in Druid Hills. We want Druid Hills to be a place where everybody feels comfortable and everybody is welcomed to come and live there.”

Community Conversation will air each Friday at 7:30 p.m. on On Your Side Tonight with Jamie Boll on WBTV.

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