“Where Do We Stop?” Austin Considers Renaming City To Shed Legacy
The city of Austin’s Equity Office has suggested renaming the Texas capital in a report about existing Confederate monuments that was published this week.
Known as both the “father of Texas” and the namesake of the state’s capital, Stephen Austin laid out the early outlines of Texas among his many accomplishments, however – and this is the reason for the proposal – as My Statesman reports, Austin also opposed an attempt by Mexico to ban slavery in the province of Tejas and said if slaves were freed, they would turn into “vagabonds, a nuisance and a menace.”
The report also identified several neighborhoods and 10 streets named in honor of the Confederacy or William Barton, a slave owner dubbed the “Daniel Boone of Texas,” that could be changed. The identified streets and parks are only suggested for reconsideration. And the city, Bouldin Creek, Pease Park and the Barton-related landmarks were included in a lower-tier list of “assets for secondary review” in the report. Still, the report did identify several streets staff consider related to the Confederacy and worthy of more immediate action. Those streets are:
- Littlefield Street
- Tom Green Street
- Sneed Cove
- Reagan Hill Drive
- Dixie Drive
- Confederate Avenue
- Plantation Road
That said, actually renaming the state’s capital would likely require a citywide election since “Austin” would have to be struck from the city charter and replaced.
While the cost of such changes is trivial – the report estimated it would only cost $6,000 to rename the seven streets – opposition to similar renamings has tended to revolve around the inconvenience and expense faced by longtime homeowners and business owners who must deal with a new address. Complaints along those lines surfaced earlier this year when the Austin City Council changed the names of two streets recognizing Confederate leaders.
Before the council renamed Robert E. Lee Road as Azie Morton Road and Jeff Davis Avenue was changed to William Holland Avenue, the city gathered input from residents along those streets. A majority opposed the changes, which occurred in April.
In response, some residents have accused the city of whitewashing history.
The latest report acknowledged the likelihood of opposing viewpoints and nodded to inconveniences to businesses and residents and the view that changing the names could be considered a threat to historical preservation. Notably, it also asked whether the proposed changes reside on a slippery slope.
“What’s next and where do we stop?” the report asks.
The report also identified numerous historical markers related to the Confederacy on city property that could be targeted for removal. Those include a marker for the Confederate States of America that’s located at Congress Avenue and Cesar Chavez Street.
However, the city would need approval from the Texas Historical Commission and the Travis County Historical Commission to move them.
The Austin report comes amid a national debate on Confederate monuments that was sparked following the 2015 massacre of black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. It follows a 2017 recommendation from the Austin Commission for Women that any new street names should address gender and racial disparities in the naming of public symbols. The commission also suggested preference should be given to individuals connected to Austin and having a “positive relationship and history with the community.”
The Equity Office’s report concludes, “It is essential to acknowledge that societal values are fluid, and they can be and are different today compared to when our city made decisions to name and/or place these Confederate symbols in our community.