As city after city in the south grapples with the dilemma of what to do with icons of the Confederacy, it will be Hollywood’s turn in the spotlight on Aug. 30, as commissioners face a final vote on whether to rename three streets named after Southern generals.
An earler commission meeting in June ended in a brawl between supporters and opponents of changing the names. Police arrested five people and a black state representatitve was taunted with racial slurs.
Now, in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, Va., when white supremacists seeking to keep a statue of Robert E. Lee from being moved clashed with counter-protesters, the tension before the Hollywood vote has ratcheted up.
There are already two protests planned for that day and organizers for both have seen an increase in Facebook traffic since the Charlottesville clashes led to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer and dozens of injuries.
The struggle over renaming the streets — named after Lee, John Bell Hood and Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early member of the KKK — has been going on for two decades.
Commissioner Richard Blattner said that despite Charlottesville, the time has come to remove the names and that it has already taken too long to get to this point.
“I think a lot of people who are against it are against it for the wrong reasons, like the inconvenience of it,” Blattner said. “Let’s get over it.”
Blattner was on a two-week vacation with his wife when he heard about Charlottesville. He said it instantly left him feeling uneasy, knowing what he was going to face at the end of August.
“I dreamt about what could happen,” Blattner said. “I know everyone will be well protected, but what’s going to happen the next day and the next few weeks following our vote? Will I come out to see my tires punctured or my house egged?”
The people Blattner are most worried about are the ones who want to leave the streets names as they are. One group, the New Sons of Liberty, was one of the main organizations that protested at the last big meeting in Hollywood on June 21. The group’s founder and protest organizer, Jake Philip Loubriel, 26, of Fort Lauderdale, has dismissed Hollywood’s renaming effort as unnecessary, although he sees the future name changes as inevitable.
“The Hollywood city council was always going to change the names,” said Loubriel, who has shifted his groups’ efforts to West Palm Beach, which he sees as the next likely spot for a battle over Confederate history. “Us patriots have had more than enough. Force will be met with much greater force and violence and we will keep pushing back until our Republic is fully restored.”
State Rep. Shevrin Jones, who has been an active voice in the Hollywood name-change battle, also attended the June protest. He was asked by Black Lives Matter to give a speech where he claims he was called a “monkey” and a “n-----” by counter-protestors.
Jones sees Aug. 30 as the most important day for the street name-change movement.
“Whether you live in Hollywood or not, everyone who is availabe that day needs to come out to outnumber the counter-protestors,” said Jones, a black Democrat from neighboring West Park.
Jones said if commissioners don’t vote in favor of the proposed change, they may feel the backlash.
At the last meeting in July, five out of seven commissioners were in favor of immediately changing the names — Forrest street runs through the historically black neighborhood of Liberia. Commissioner Peter D. Hernandez and Vice Mayor Traci L. Callari, who both declined multiple requests for comment, said they wanted more time to consider all of the concerns. Some of the supporters of keeping the names argue that it would be a hassle for residents to have to change addresses, and that maybe the city should take a poll to see how residents feel about the changes, or slowly phase the names out.
The commission voted against the poll and the majority supported moving ahead with finalizing a plan to change the signs back to their intended names, which were chosen by the founder of Hollywood, Joseph Young. The original names were to be Macon, Savannah and Louisville, named after cities with large black populations, according to local historians. But after Hollywood’s founding in 1925, the streets were named after military figures, including from the Confederacy.
Mayor Josh Levy has also been vocal about how long it is taking the commission to move forward with a decision. He hopes future residents living on the streets with the new names will feel empowered and inspired to continue to take stands against injustice.
“Certainly the tragic events of Virginia remind us of how volatile a matter this is,” Levy said. “But we in Hollywood can be proud as to who we are as a city and community when we probably vote to rename those streets and close this chapter.”