Manuel Scherif Data News Weekly Contributor
The newly formed New Orleans City Council Street Renaming Commission will consider 37 streets, parks, and public places named after Confederate figures and White supremacists, for future renaming. The new list was generated after the commission invited the public to submit places and met virtually on Nov. 24th for a public discussion. The City Council tasked the commission when it created it in June 2020 to work on a comprehensive process for evaluating the names of public spaces to honor those who have fought for social justice and civil rights.
“The change is significant because it allows the community to heal,” said Dr. Sharlene Sinegal-DeCuir, a Civil Rights Historian, and Chair of the Department of History at Xavier University. “Several of the streets in New Orleans are named after Confederate generals or people who fought to maintain racial segregation during a turbulent time in American history,” she said.
“Changing the names of these streets is the right thing to do. It shows the community that they are valued, that although history has divided us, that will no longer be our story,” Sinegal-DeCuir said.
The City will officially rename Jefferson Davis Parkway – the Norman Francis Parkway on January 1, 2021, after Xavier’s long-time president who broke racial barriers during segregation. One of the suggestions the commission received in its most recent hearing was a proposal for renaming General Early Drive in Gentilly, to Dent Drive. The street is named after General Jubal Anderson Early who served as a Confederate general in the Civil War. Albert W. Dent was the second President of Dillard University, who also initially served the university as an academic administrator and as the business administrator of Flint-Goodridge Hospital. The hospital was one of the first hospitals to serve primarily Black New Orleanians and was run by the university. As chief of the hospital and later president of Dillard, Dent went on to aggressively fundraise for the university to improve physician and health care training and education. The city commission will also consider public suggestions to rename public streets and spaces after additional Dillard University alumni: former governor P.B.S. Pinchback, Editor and Activist Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes, and Attorney and Activist Louis Andre Martinet.
“I think the renaming of streets provides an opportunity to link these names with history,” said Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, Dillard’s current president. “Many people don’t know that Pinchback was the first (and only) Black Louisiana Governor, and while people have heard the phrase Plessy vs Ferguson, seeing the names Desdunes and Martinet are opportunities to learn about the Citizens Committee that did that work,” Kimbrough explained.
To encourage the public to provide more nominations the commission has created a website and online form for residents to propose renaming spaces across their neighborhoods. The commission hopes the effort will restore the legacy of African Americans in the city that was systematically erased during segregation.
“This is challenging,” said Sue Mobley, a New Orleans based urbanist, organizer, and advocate and member of the City Planning Commission, who is advising the Renaming Commission.
“The majority of the streets that are going to be renamed are ones that exist as part of the 20th-Century City, some places were specifically drained and built upon in the early 20th Century,” Mobley said at the most recent public meeting. “So much of our city’s 300-year history is not represented on those places,” Mobley said.