Hollywood commission meeting on Confederate street names
Acknowledging the painful legacy of slavery and the Civil War, Hollywood commissioners decided Wednesday to rename three streets honoring Confederate generals that for the better part of a century have run through a predominantly black city neighborhood.
After more than five hours of fervent and often tense debate, the City Commission voted 5-1 to rechristen Forrest, Hood and Lee streets, though their new names have yet to be determined.
“This is about what the meaning of community is,” Mayor Josh Levy said. “We don’t endorse hate. We don’t endorse symbols of hate. What hurts you, hurts me. It should hurt all of us.”
Levy, Commissioners Kevin Biederman, Dick Blattner, Debra Case and Linda Sherwood voted in favor. Vice Mayor Traci Callari voted against. A five-vote super-majority was required for approval. Case was out of town and attended the meeting by phone. Commissioner Peter Hernandez walked off the dais in a huff just before the vote, accusing his colleagues of violating procedure.
Hernandez and Callari said residents of the three streets should have gotten a chance to vote on the changes, something the commission opposed last month. Hernandez also suggested the city was acting with hypocrisy by not renaming other Hollywood streets also thought to be named after Confederates.
“I can’t support cherry-picking, and I can’t support the process, the way it was done,” he said.
A plan to rename the streets Savannah, Macon and Louisville, in a nod to historically black cities in the South, as historians say Hollywood’s founder originally intended, went nowhere. Biederman proposed renaming Forrest Street after Frankie Shivers, a Hollywood police officer killed in 1982, but Sherwood asked to hold off on a decision to give everyone more time to settle on all three names. They will take up the issue in a meeting next week.
As often happens when government grapples with history, Wednesday was messy.
Politician after politician implored commissioners to finally rid the Liberia neighborhood of streets honoring 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.
The county sheriff agreed. The public defender agreed. The property appraiser agreed. The chamber of commerce agreed. Like almost all of South Florida, Hollywood, which was founded in 1925, has no historical claim to the Civil War.
“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.”
City activists pushed for new names for more than a decade. But some residents of the three 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.
Citing costs to residents and small businesses, and a bureaucratic process that seemed designed to make renaming streets difficult, the commission — which has never had a black member — repeatedly put off making a renaming decision. But the board voted in July to proceed, and Wednesday marked the final step to finally change the names. Two activists, Linda Anderson and Laurie Schecter, applied to change the names in June.
Less than three weeks after deadly violence during after a white supremacist rally Charlottesville, Virginia, emotions Wednesday 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. He was charged with disorderly conduct, aggravated assault and inciting a riot.
“The white man made this country!” he said in a shouting match moments earlier. “You’re lucky to be here. Florida is my home, and I will defend it.”
“It’s an outrage that we are still here, in 2017, trying to convince people that this needs to be rectified,” said protester Tameka Hobbs, an assistant professor at Florida Memorial University. “There is no sugarcoating of what the Confederacy stood for.”
The timing of Hollywood’s decision had nothing to do with Charlottesville. But its aftermath was impossible to ignore.
Since Charlottesville, state and local officials have called for the removal of Confederate monuments in Tampa, West Palm Beach, Bradenton and Gainesville. A 135-year-old Confederate memorial stands on Florida Capitol grounds in Tallahassee. The Republican-controlled state Legislature wants to replace its statue in the U.S. Capitol of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith — but lawmakers have been unable to decide whom to honor instead.
National public-opinion polls show some ambivalence toward removing Confederate monuments, though there is vast outright rejection for white supremacist ideology. A Florida Atlantic University released Tuesday showed 49 percent of 800 registered voters in the state surveyed online and via automated phone calls were OK with leaving Confederate statues in place, compared to 30 percent who supported their removal and 21 percent who were undecided.
“It’s just a name,” argued Sylvia Koutsodontis, who owns a Lee Street accounting business and attended Wednesday’s meeting sporting a “Save Our Streets” T-Shirt. “It’s not a racist issue. It’s not a political issue. We want to keep our history. We just want our streets to stay the same.”
Inside the chambers, people like her who wanted to keep the existing streets accused commissioners of stoking racial tension by bringing up the issue — and of ignoring residents’ will by not polling them.
“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.”
Blattner, a longtime renaming proponent, said Wednesday’s vote was a moral issue.
“This is the time for us to vote our conscience,” he said.