Confederate street names stir protests, debate in Florida

2017-08-31 08:53
Confederate monument. (Jonathan Drew, AP, file)

Confederate monument. (Jonathan Drew, AP, file)

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2017-08-17 12:42

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Hollywood - A Florida city commission faced a packed meeting on Wednesday as its members considered whether to strip the name of Robert E Lee and two other Confederate generals from the suburb's streets.

More than 130 supporters and opponents of the proposed change signed up to speak at the Hollywood commission meeting, which was expected to go well into the evening.

The commission's six white members and one Hispanic member voted 5-2 in July to give preliminary approval to changing the names. The change was supported by the city's Chamber of Commerce and by about two-thirds of meeting's speakers.

Benjamin Israel, a black resident who was one of the early leaders to change the street names, said the idea that residents would be "inconvenienced" by the name changes was "ridiculous".

"Think of the inconvenience of the Civil War. Over 600 000 were killed. This will help make a better America," Israel said.

"This is not a racial matter. Most of the people killed in the Civil War were white."

READ: Trump isolated after Charlottesville remarks

'Propaganda campaign'

But opponents have said that stripping the names of Lee - and fellow Confederates Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Bell Hood - would be erasing history.

John Jacobs of the group "Save Our Streets", which opposed the change, said the commission trampled on residents' rights when the members waived a city ordinance that says affected property owners need to be polled before a street name can be changed, knowing there would be little support.

He said change supporters "waged a propaganda campaign by making outlandish and false accusations" against the generals. Lee, he said, didn't fight to support slavery, but to uphold his home state of Virginia's right to secede.

"These were not treasonous men. They were 19th century men and shouldn't be judged by 21st century standards," he said.

Some opponents, meanwhile, suggested keeping the name of Lee Street by renaming it for Harper Lee, who wrote the classic Southern novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

A few hours before the meeting, protests briefly turned tense when a lone pro-Confederate protester charged at about 100 anti-Confederate demonstrators.

Hollywood police quickly tackled Chris Tedino, 21, of Miami, throwing him and his Confederate flag to the ground before he was led away. The confrontation occurred outside Hollywood City Hall, hours before the commission meeting opened.

If the measure passes, Hollywood would join Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, and the Gulf coast town of Bradenton as Florida cities that have removed Confederate memorials. Those two cities removed statues.

'Traitors'

Tedino had been standing alone, holding a flag that was half-Confederate battle flag and half a black "X" on a white field. He was yelling at the other group, calling them "traitors".

Several street names dating to the city's 1925 founding honour military officers both US and Confederate.

Others are named after US Civil War General George McLellan, Admiral David Farragut, who led the Union Navy during the Civil War, as well as World War I General John J Pershing.

The debate over Confederate street names, statues and other symbols is being conducted in several communities around the US.

The memorials have been under increased scrutiny since deadly violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month.

In Kentucky, group of black lawmakers, pastors and advocacy groups called anew this week for the removal of a Jefferson Davis statue in that state's Capitol.

That landmark building is home to five statues of famous Kentuckians, including former President Abraham Lincoln and Davis, the only president of the Confederacy.

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