Hollywood street signs named after Confederate generals
Every day after he’s done delivering mail in Miami Gardens, postman Jonathan Anderson returns home to Hollywood, where he strolls the neighborhood to check in with family and friends. Like him, most of them are African-American.
So it is especially hurtful to pass by three streets whose names might mean little to the uninformed. But Anderson knows: Forrest, Hood and Lee were three Confederate generals. Forrest was considered the father of the Ku Klux Klan.
“To me, when you walk out your door and see those names, and you are conscious of what they stand for, then it becomes something so distasteful you can’t shake it,” said Anderson, 62. “It is a showing from a very dark past that my ancestors had to go through — what we are still going through.”
Of all the places still grappling with the Civil War’s ugly legacy, the most unexpected might be sleepy Hollywood, a Broward County bedroom community founded 60 years after the war’s end, with zero claims to its history and located so far south it’s closer to the Caribbean than to the old Confederacy.
Yet the city has stuck with Confederate streets in a black neighborhood, ignoring renaming requests a decade and a half ago. For the past two years, the idea has been grinding through an unhurried bureaucracy to — perhaps, finally — christen them anew.
Exasperated by Hollywood’s dawdling, a protest calling for the streets to be renamed turned nasty last week when pro-Confederates arrived and, according to a black state legislator, hurled racial epithets at him and other African Americans and Hispanics. The demonstration of about 150 people outside city hall ended with five arrests when protesters disrupted a commission meeting.
“Blacks see what’s happening nationally and think, ‘Hell, no, this is not about to happen again,’ ” said state Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat from neighboring West Park who said he was called a “monkey” and a “n-----.” “We will be vocal, and we will not sit on the sidelines.”
Hollywood leaders have known for decades about the offending streets, named in the 1920s after Gen. Robert E. Lee, who led the Confederate Army; Gen. John Bell Hood, who commanded troops in the Battle of Gettysburg; and Nathan Bedford Forrest, a lieutenant general said to be the Klan’s first grand wizard.
“They were rebels against the country. Traitors. Human-rights abusers,” said 67-year-old resident Julian Garvin. “Why should we honor them?”
Yet the Hollywood City Commission, which has never had a black member, has been hesitant to rename the streets, citing what they insist would be an inconvenient hassle and expense for residents to get new driver’s licenses and for businesses to get new stationery.
The fee to change the address on a Florida driver license is $25. The U.S. Postal Service is known to deliver mail to old addresses even after years have gone by.
Pressure for the city to act has built since 2015, when vandals spray-painted over the street signs. Shortly after, Benjamin Israel, a local who had tried to rename streets more than a decade earlier, renewed his push.
National politics gave the issue prominence, with waves of protests over police brutality toward African Americans. Then, in June 2015, a 21-year-old white supremacist shot and killed nine worshipers in a historic black church in Charleston, prompting South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag from in front of state Capitol grounds.
More recently, New Orleans last month removed statues of Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard — with city workers wearing masks and bulletproof vests because they had received death threats.
“These men did not fight for the United States of America. They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a poignant speech. “History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over and the Confederacy lost, and we are better for it.”
Hollywood need not look outside Florida, however. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush quietly took down the Confederate flag from the state Capitol in 2001. And state lawmakers decided last year to replace the statue of a Confederate general from the U.S. Capitol in Washington. But, unable to agree on which Floridian to honor instead, the monument to Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith remains.
Last week, a day after Orlando dismantled a “Johnny Reb” statue from a downtown park to move to a cemetery, the Hillsborough County Commission in Tampa voted against taking down a 1911 memorial to the Confederate dead.
In Hollywood, Israel’s cause eventually drew the support of Black Lives Matter activists and the Anti-Defamation League.
“I kept talking and getting people to understand it, bit by bit, and I never dropped it,” said Israel, an African-American Orthodox Jew. “Now, it is coming to a head.”
Another activist, 68-year-old Laurie Schecter, who is white, and Linda Anderson, a member of the city’s African American Advisory Council and unrelated to Jonathan Anderson, filed applications with the city last week to rename the three streets. Schecter paid the $6,000 application fees — $2,000 per street — from her own pocket. The city could have waived the fees — at least one commissioner wanted to do just that — but didn’t.
“It was always a concern to me,” Schecter, who grew up in the area, said of the names. “I didn’t understand it.”
Commissioners could take a renaming vote as early as Monday, according to the city. But they’ve moved so slowly thus far that a quick decision seems unlikely.
The city’s African American council recommended changing the street names last year, calling them “derogatory” and “socially unacceptable.” Commissioners, though, contended that they needed to learn more about the city’s renaming policies, which require approval from a naming committee that the commission itself had to appoint. If commissioners poll residents via mail ballot, which some are still thinking of doing, more than half would need to OK the name change. Some 1,500 homeowners live on the three streets. Balloting would take 30 days.
Eventually, five of seven commissioners would need to sign off.
Two, Mayor Josh Levy and Commissioner Dick Blattner, have supported renaming the three streets. Commissioners Kevin Biederman and Peter Hernandez have pushed to at least rename Forrest Street.
“The longer it takes to get it done, the worse it gets,” Biederman said. “If we would’ve done it last year, we wouldn’t have had what we had last week at city hall.”
Vice Mayor Traci Callari and Commissioners Debra Case and Linda Sherwood, however, have insisted they want more resident input. Callari and Sherwood did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Case asked for questions in writing but had not responded by Thursday.
Other Hollywood politicians past and present are keen on the name-changing.
“I don’t think I, myself, would like to live on Forrest Street, knowing the degree to which he suppressed voting and intimidated people in the 1860s,” said County Commissioner Beam Furr, whose district includes Lee Street (and who said he recently read about Forrest in a biography of Ulysses S. Grant).
“The time is now to change those names,” said County Commissioner Tim Ryan, whose district includes Forrest and Hood streets. “As quickly as possible.”
If the names Forrest, Hood and Lee were proposed today, they “would not be accepted,” conceded Hollywood spokeswoman Raelin Storey, who rejected the suggestion that commissioners have moved slowly.
“From watching the deliberations over the last two years, it is an issue they take very seriously,” she said.
Schecter and Anderson requested the streets be renamed Macon, Savannah and Louisville, to reclaim the original idea of Hollywood’s founder, Joseph W. Young, who in 1923 envisioned an African-American neighborhood — which he called the “colored district” — with streets named after cities with large black populations, according to local historians. That neighborhood was named Liberia, in a twist of irony, after the African country where former American slaves settled after the Civil War.
But after Hollywood’s founding in 1925, the streets were named after military figures, including from the Confederacy (Forrest, Lee and Hood, but also maybe others, like Simms, possibly named after Gen. James P. Simms) and the Union (including Custer, Farragut, McClellan, Meade, Sheridan and Sherman).
None appears more offensive than Forrest Street, which got its name on June 16, 1925, when the city changed its address system to simplify postal delivery and get rid of streets with more than one name, the Miami Herald reported in 1995. It was previously named Swan Street.
Forrest was a plantation owner and slave trader whose troops massacred dozens of black Union soldiers after they surrendered in Fort Pillow, Tenn., in 1864. Forrest at one point denied his involvement in the Klan.
The Klan, which until not long ago held rallies in Davie, one of Hollywood’s neighboring towns, was a resurgent political force in the 1920s, but that doesn’t mean the street names had any direct ties to white supremacists.
“Many people just embraced the southern racial attitude at that time,” said Paul George, a South Florida historian. “There was no black empowerment to fight that. They were completely disenfranchised in every way.”
As a historian, “it troubles me a little bit to totally erase history: How much of it are you going to remove?” George said. But, he added, “You're talking about the leader and one of the original founders of the KKK. That is really in-your-face in a black community.”
Florida seceded from the Union in 1861, when it was populated by about 140,000 people, including 62,000 slaves. A single significant battle took place in the state during the Civil War, in Olustee, which is closer to Georgia than South Florida. Forrest, Hood and Lee never fought in Florida. After Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Florida Gov. John Milton committed suicide, preferring death to Union rule.
The war’s remnants, though, have lingered. It wasn’t until 1994 that Hollywood took down a Confederate flag flying on a Young Circle monument since 1951 — and that was only after the city agreed to install a plaque to honor Florida’s four former sovereigns: Spain, Britain, France and the Confederacy.
Then, as now, city commissioners have heard arguments in favor of preserving Florida’s Confederate heritage, including from pro-Confederates who showed up at last week’s protest. Some of the sympathizers, organized by a group that calls itself New Sons of Liberty, wore bulletproof vests and waved Confederate flags. A few came from as far as Fort Myers, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
“Trump! Trump! Trump!” some of them chanted, referring to the Republican president. Last year, Trump was embraced by some white nationalists who felt reawakened by his candidacy. Broward is Florida’s most Democratic county.
New Sons of Liberty founder Jake Philip Loubriel, 26, of Fort Lauderdale, dismissed Hollywood’s renaming effort as unnecessary.
“Honestly, the Hollywood City Commission needs to work on actual issues,” he said. “We have the worst infrastructure down here, that is a real issue. These city commissioners are wasting their time worrying about fake controversies like changing street names.”
Loubriel argued that the Civil War was fought not over slavery or economic reasons, but “against government overreach and to work to restore constitutional limited government.”
“What race, what ethnicity, has not been enslaved in some form?” Loubriel said. “Everyone has been enslaved. If we are really going to take down the Confederate monuments, then let’s take down the Taj Mahal. The Great Wall of China.”
Hollywood, a city of nearly 152,000 where about 17 percent of the population is black, has never had a black commissioner. Even after Hollywood switched from at-large to single-member districts, a change intended to increase the board’s minority representation, no district had a majority African-American population. Hollywood’s two predominantly black neighborhoods, Liberia in the north and Washington Park in the south, are on opposite ends of the city.
“I’m Jewish, and I certainly wouldn’t want a street named Hitler Street,” said Mara Giulianti, the longtime former mayor who’s been arguing on Facebook with residents who want to keep the existing names. “Naming a street, it’s an honor that doesn’t need to be bestowed just because of historical reasons. It’s for when an individual has done something for the people, not against the people or to the people.”
Former Broward County Commissioner Sue Gunzburger, who sat on the Hollywood City Commission from 1982-92, suggested the city start a fund to help needy residents defray the cost of a street name change.
“If they can do it in the Deep South,” Gunzburger said, “I can’t understand why we can’t do it in Hollywood.”