Fabiola Santiago

No city should have to live with a street named after a Ku Klux Klan founder

Hollywood street signs named after Confederate generals

Hollywood residents react to the city possibly changing its street signs named after Confederate generals.
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Hollywood residents react to the city possibly changing its street signs named after Confederate generals.

All of the streets in Hollywood named after Confederate generals who fought to uphold slavery — and that run through a largely African-American neighborhood — are a disgrace, long past their time, and overdue for a makeover.

But none is more egregious than Forrest Street, named after Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a founder of the Ku Klux Klan.

No citizen, no city should have to endure living with a street named after a racist whose hate and superiority complex led him to the vile endeavor of helping create America’s prototypical hate group. That Forrest Street runs thought the heart of Hollywood’s African-American community compounds the original sin.

But despite efforts during the past 15 years to right this wrong, it’s only now that the Hollywood City Commission is getting around to the task. No time like the present, when dismantling celebratory monuments to the Confederacy has become a national imperative given the election of a president who panders to white supremacy and feels no shame in opening new wounds.

After protests that ended in five arrests and a contentious three-hour meeting, the first vote to change the streets named after generals Forrest, Robert E. Lee and John Bell Hood passed 5-2 in July. Another showdown and final vote is set for Wednesday.

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Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, after whom a street is named in Hollywood. He is controversial because of his role in the founding of the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War. copy

Surprisingly, one of the two dissenting commissioners was Peter D. Hernandez, a Cuban-American businessman elected from a crowded field of competent contenders in 2012 with the endorsement of the Sun Sentinel for his community involvement.

His explanations of his vote were as confounding as his no vote.

“What message are we sending to the rest of our residents? If you put enough pressure on city hall, then this will happen?” said Hernandez, who fled the Castro regime with his parents when he was 9 years old.

He’s got that backwards. In a democracy, government is supposed to be responsive to the people. He should know this. In his native Havana, people have no right to ask anything of their government. Is that not why he and his family fled?

Hernandez’s next intervention was to suggest that if the city is going to change three names, then it should take up the mammoth task of changing all Hollywood street names to numbers. “If you inconvenience one, you should inconvenience them all,” Hernandez said.

Not only was he trying to raise some sort of false equivalency, but it makes one wonder: Where’s Hernandez’s moral compass?

And so, I posed these questions to the commissioner: How would you like it if a street in your neighborhood was named Che Guevara Street, after the popular Argentine guerrilla warrior who caused the Cuban people so much pain and suffering?

You and I think Guevara is an assassin who ordered summary executions without trial after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, but others think of him as a revolutionary hero and brilliant war strategist. How would you like to live in your largely Cuban neighborhood with a street named after him — for decades — with the people you voted for looking the other way?

Not much, I suspect. I wouldn’t stand for it either.

So how can you not show similar sympathy for African Americans who must travel every day through streets in their city named for Confederate generals who fought a war to keep their ancestors enslaved?

Hernandez wasn’t up to answering me. Two calls, two messages left with an assistant and three emails went unanswered.

But it’s a no-brainer.

With or without his vote, the Hollywood Commission should send a strong message that it stands against racism, hate and bigotry. Don’t cuddle up to those who are still fighting the Civil War, a stain on the history of this country, and feel emboldened by President Donald Trump’s divisive governing style.

Trump has no moral compass with which to lead, so it is up to cities, counties, and state governments to offer some solace and stop honoring the very flawed dead at the expense of the living.

If the president of this nation isn’t going to play the role of healer and unifier, then we must do so at the local level.

For Hollywood, the simple renaming of three streets isn’t a huge task. But the long overdue gesture speaks volumes in the language of reconciliation.

Let us make our peace with history — and let the vote to change the Confederate street names be unanimous.

I wouldn’t want a street named after Guevara in my city any more than I’d want a street named after Forrest, Hood or Lee.

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