After hours of hearing fervent testimony that invoked the painful legacy of slavery and the Civil War, Hollywood commissioners continued to wrestle late Wednesday with renaming three streets honoring Confederate generals that for the better part of a century have run through a predominantly black city neighborhood.
But, as often happens when government grapples with history, it was messy.
Politician after politician implored the City Commission to finally rid the Liberia neighborhood of Lee, Hood and Forrest streets, which honor Gen. Robert E. Lee, who led the Confederate Army; Gen. John Bell Hood, a commander in the Battle of Gettysburg, and, above all, Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate lieutenant general thought to be the Ku Klux Klan’s first grand wizard.
On Wednesday, the sheriff agreed. The public defender agreed. The property appraiser agreed. The chamber of commerce agreed: Hollywood, which was founded in 1925, has no historical claim to the Civil War. Shed the symbols of hate and move forward.
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And yet, the meeting dragged on.
Activists have pushed for new names for more than a decade. But some residents of those streets, citing a variety of reasons, remained steadfastly opposed.
Commissioners delayed the start of their discussion by two hours. They struggled with what the renamed streets would be called. They quibbled over whether it was even legally proper to be holding a vote.
Exasperated residents chided the board for making them show up at City Hall again and again to make the same points: for renaming offensive streets activists have complained about for more than a decade, and against because it would pose a costly inconvenience. Some of the 132 people who signed up left long before their names were called for their three minutes to address the commission.
“Let me be honest,” said Brian Johnson, the vice mayor of neighboring West Park, who argued the streets should have been renamed long ago. “We should not be here today.”
The City Commission, which has never had a black member, has repeatedly put off making a renaming decision, citing a bureaucratic process that seemed designed to make renaming streets difficult. But the board voted in July to proceed, and Wednesday marked the final step to change the names.
Less than three weeks after deadly violence during after a white supremacist rally Charlottesville, Virginia, emotions were raw. A protest of about 150 people outside City Hall, guarded heavily by police, resulted in the arrest of a 22-year-old Hialeah man, Christopher Rey Monzon, who lunged at demonstrators with his Confederate flag.
Inside, people who wanted to keep the existing streets accused commissioners of stoking racial tension by bringing up the issue — and of disenfranchising residents by deciding last month not to poll residents about the renaming.
“You guys have trampled on our democratic rights,” said John Jacobs, who contended that “Confederate leaders were not treasonous or dishonorable,” even though they took arms against the Union.
The next woman to stand behind the microphone, Carmella Gardner, gulped back tears.
“This battle has been long, and this battle has been necessary,” she said. “Our country right now is hurting. And it’s because of issues like this have been denied for so long, and it’s time to address them.”
Much of the debate involved alternate names for the three streets. The two activists who filed renaming applications in June suggested rechristening Forrest, Hood and Lee as Savannah, Macon and Louisville, respectively, in a nod to historically black cities in the South, as historians say Hollywood’s founder originally intended.
But when the activists, Laurie Schecter and Linda Anderson, addressed the commission Wednesday, they acknowledged some people also oppose those names.
“Clearly they’re not names that people are happy with,” Schecter said, asking the commission to limit itself to simply removing the Confederate names and finding new names later. “We want to have this pass, and have it pass quickly, today. We don’t want the names to be an issue.”
Alas, they were.
Suggestions peppered Wednesday’s conversation. Could the streets be renamed after anti-segregation activists? What about after African-American generals, like former Secretary of State Colin Powell? Maybe Hollywood could keep Lee Street, but rededicate it to the late author Harper Lee? To film director Spike Lee?
“You can name the street Harper Street. Not Lee!” said Benjamin Israel, a longtime renaming proponent.
Money frequently came up, too: how much it would cost to get new driver’s licenses and business signage. Would the city pay for it? Renaming supporters wanted to know if Hollywood would reimburse Schecter and Anderson, who paid $6,000 out of their pockets to file the applications — or if the city would bear the cost of buying new street signs.
Commissioners had yet to deal with any of it after 10 p.m., nearly four hours into the discussion, as tempers continued to rise.
“I know it’s going to be tough at first,” 33-year-old resident Richard Nettina said. “But we’re all going to get through it, and it’s going to be OK.”