TAKOMA PARK — After months of delay, the Takoma Park Commemoration Commission made its recommendation about how the City Council should rename five streets currently named after Civil War generals.
The Commemoration Commission, one of the city’s resident advisory commissions, recommended the City Council make no legal change to the street names, not add additional place names to the streets in question, add a historical marker at the intersection of Lee and Hancock Avenues, and rename Jackson-Boyd Park.
During its examination process, the commission explored three possible options, including renaming the streets through a formal process, adding a commemorative plaque or an honorary name while keeping the current legal names, or leaving the current legal names.
The Commission collected feedback, and commission member Richard O’Connor said they received 53 public comments.
The streets in question include Lee Avenue, named after Confederate General Robert E Lee, as well as Sheridan Avenue, Grant Avenue, Hancock Avenue, and Sherman Avenue., all named after Union Generals Philip Sheridan, Ulysses S. Grant, Winfred Hancock and William T. Sherman, respectively.
O’Connor said that many of the residents on the streets in question “opposed” the idea of legally renaming the streets but were “open” to the idea of having commemorative plaques dedicating the streets to other individuals.
“It [has] more to do with the difficulty of dealing with the post office on the name change,” added commission member Diana Kohn.
Council member Kacy Kostuik (Ward 3) said she was in favor of legally changing the names, adding that she recognized it would “add hardship to the residents already there,” but “at minimum” supported a rededication approach.
The Commission established that any new names should be limited to deceased individuals with a connection to the city. O’Connor explaining that individuals outside the criteria would turn the renaming process into a “popularity contest.”
When it came to commemorative plaques, members of the commission emphasized that any commemorative approach should also include a plaque explaining the significance of the commemorative names.
“The critical point that we arrived at was that this should be an opportunity to educate and learn from those five names on those streets … all five of them, in various ways, stood on the wrong side of history.”
“If there’s the secondary name and there isn’t a piece of plaque with some information about these names … why these names and feelings towards the community … you kind of lose that opportunity and you lose those alternative names,” added former mayor and current commission member Bruce Williams.
Council member Peter Kovar (Ward 1) asked if the actions of Confederate and Union generals were all equitable to each other.
“There were as many people upset at the fact that if you were going to start saying ‘if you’re going to pick on Lee’ that you didn’t also pick on Sherman and Sheridan whose actions against the Indians were arguably … as reprehensible,” said commission member Jessica Kessler. “The idea that you were singling out Lee … began to be more of an issue than we anticipated.”
“Many Civil War scholars consider the actions of Sherman and Sheridan to be war criminals if there was a war tribunal at that time … all five of them are tainted,” O’Connor added. “How do we portray them to the future generations?”