BR.confederatestreets.062420. 0047 bf.JPG

Confederate street signs in Shenandoah Subdivision where Stonewall Drive intersects General Forrest Avenue Tuesday June 23, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La.

New research presented to an East Baton Rouge panel studying the area's street names Monday suggests that many of the planning and street-naming decisions in some neighborhoods were done with explicitly and implicitly held values connected to racism and segregation.

Researchers also found that having streets and neighborhoods with names tied to the Confederacy — like in Southdowns, Shenandoah and the Hermitage area off Gardere — can limit the economic incentives, negatively impact Baton Rouge's regional and national reputation and weaken the city-parish's ability to retain the next generation of young talent. 

However, city-parish leaders acknowledge the parish's Unified Development Code makes it nearly impossible to rename streets as quickly as New Orleans, especially if they cannot win support from residents who live on streets named after Confederate leaders.   

These are the 16 Baton Rouge streets with Confederate ties that could be renamed

"I think the administration needs to now be cognizant for the need of some type of office or committee that's paid to look at these things and keep these discussions going," Councilwoman Erika Green said Monday during a meeting of an advisory committee the Metro Council created this summer to evaluate street names and determine whether any should be renamed.

The advisory committee has spent the past seven months trying to itemize a list of street names that could be deemed divisive, and gathering research to build arguments on why the time has come to change them.

Their work, so far, will be presented to the entire Metro Council at its Wednesday meeting.

The committee of city-parish leaders, officials and constituents Monday was presented with highlights from research conducted recently by a team of LSU history professors, graduate and undergraduate students who profiled the background of 16 streets identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as having ties to the Confederacy.

Their research shows that those street names were mostly concentrated in the southern parts of the parish and tied to residential developments that came into being in the 1920s, late 60s/early 70s and early 1980s, and that some names could be traced to developers who either wanted to capture the myth of the "Lost Cause," had ties to the Klu Klux Klan, or upheld beliefs of segregation and Jim Crow laws.

The "Lost Cause" is an ideology that often presents the Civil War in perspectives that cast the Confederacy, its soldiers and supporters in the best terms, distorting its ugly ties to slavery and the continued racial bias towards Black people long after the South lost the war.

The community's conflict over school desegregation and busing was also a factor, Stephen Andes, an LSU history professor, told the committee.

"Baton Rouge wants to promote equity and economic development. Our group would argue the names of these confederate generals on streets in Baton Rouge doesn't support those goals," Andes said at the start of his presentation. "The pushback you often find to that is people saying its unfair to apply our sensibilities of today to a bygone era." 

In their study of the 16 street names the research group found that the developer of Southdowns neighborhood, Alfred D. St. Amant, was a silent member of the KKK and the community was originally advertised in the 1920s as a "Whites only" community. 

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

Shenandoah Estates, developed by W.T. "Teddy" Harger, came online during the 1970 school desegregation order and forced busing. In its advertised push, it was characterized as a homage to Civil War battles and generals with architecture and amenities evoking the "mystique of the Old South." 

Andes also highlighted that Shenandoah Estates racial population has gradually shifted from predominately White to being a little more diverse. 

Hermitage Oaks, located in the Gardere Lane area, was also advertised and developed to capture Confederacy nostalgia, with a majority of its streets named after Confederate generals. The racial population of the subdivision began in the early 80s racial mixed but has since shifted to predominantly Black due to white flight, Andes noted.

Andes said much of the planning and decisions around the development of those communities were done with little to no input from stakeholders and ignoring any opposition at the time.  

"By and large, my constituents (in Shenandoah Estates) either don't care or they think this is the last thing we should focus on," said Councilman Dwight Hudson, who also serves on the committee. "(Or) they'd be opposed to any name changes out of the inconvenience of it. They will say racism no longer affects our community. So, what kind of buy-in is best if you're going to make a change?"

Given how the city-parish's Unified Development Code is outlined, committee members all agreed getting that buy-in from certain areas won't likely happen. 

Streets can only be renamed after a round of public hearings before the Metro Council and Planning Commission, but first a petition from a little more than half of the residents along a street requesting the name change has to be obtained. 

Courtney Humphrey, with the city-parish's Parish Attorney's Office, acknowledged that New Orleans street naming committee was granted with the authority to arbitrarily rename streets without all the red tape East Baton Rouge Parish has. A lot of their efforts were also funded by the city and cooperate entities, like Microsoft, given their committee paid staff to facilitate the changes. 

"They had some pushback, but most of that pushback was grounded in nostalgia and inconvenience, and their committee said 'that's not enough'," Humphrey said. 

Both Green and Hudson didn't express any interest in trying to change the code at Monday's meeting. 

"The UDC is in place for a reason," Green said. "Either the administration has to make a move or policy has to come from council members. This is not going to be citizen-led effort. It has to come from a policy standpoint."  

   

     

  


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com 

Tags