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Confederate street sign in Shenandoah Subdivision where Confederate Avenue runs Tuesday June 23, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council may create its own commission to change street names that honor Confederate soldiers and anyone else with historical ties to racism or other discriminatory actions.  

Like the one it's modeled after in New Orleans, the Baton Rouge commission would spend a year taking inventory of public streets to determine which should be changed and developing recommendations for renaming them.

The resolution Councilwoman Erika Green will ask the Metro Council to support this week comes two months after a report on racial inequities in the parish was released by the committee appointed last year by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome. That report was criticized by many city-parish leaders for what some called a "softball approach" to addressing racist symbols and street names tied to Confederacy. 

"There were some concerns brought to me from the community," said Green, who confirmed she spoke with the mayor about the report but declined to elaborate on some of the controversy surrounding the issue.

"We're in the South, I won't hide from that part," said Green, who is Black. "What may be historically significant to one person can be offensive or has an discriminatory effect to others."     

The 64-page report, which the mayor's office released in February, takes a comprehensive look at racial disparities throughout East Baton Rouge.

The document examines the rising movement against monuments, buildings and streets honoring controversial figures linked to slavery and racial discrimination. It also underscores the importance of changing "the hearts and minds" of the community instead of just renaming streets, which many people felt should've happened as quickly as it did in other cities — like New Orleans, which reacted swiftly in the wake of police reform protests amid a national reckoning over racial injustice. 

The commission argued that its stance was rooted in opposition likely to arise with abrupt changes in East Baton Rouge, as well as red tape associated with the process. 

Renaming a road in the city-parish can only happen if a majority of property owners on a street petition the local government to do so. It would also require public notices and two rounds of hearings.

The cost of replacing signs would fall on the applicant seeking the change.

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To date, no such petitions for street-name changes have cropped up in the community. 

Green's resolution, set for public hearing and council consideration Wednesday, would create an eight-member committee comprised of two members from the Metro Council, two from Broome's Commission on Racial Equity and Inclusion, the director of the city-parish Planning Commission and representatives from the local faith-based community and businesses and non-profit sectors. 

No more than five public streets will be recommended. Green called that a "starting point." 

The advisory committee would be strictly volunteer, meet monthly and report to the Metro Council at least once every 90 days. 

Included on the list of streets that should be rechristened will be recommended replacement names and explanations for why those new titles would be a better fit.

The resolution also presents honorary designations as an option instead of actual name changes, given the associated costs and complex process involved in coming up with a new title. 

"Honorary designations won't change the street name itself," Green explained. "It's something we can do easily and it's modeled after what other cities have done."

Honorary designation would essentially entail the city-parish installing special signage, though the actual addresses would remain the same.

According to city-parish officials, no honorary designations currently exist. New Orleans has some, but none are tied to removing names tied to the Confederacy. The honorary names in New Orleans were simply a means by which the City Council could honor people without having to jump through all the hoops it takes to formally change a street name. 

"Does it need to be more? Absolutely," local NAACP chapter president Eugene Collins said. "But what Councilwoman Green is proposing is a great first step. Sometimes, (this parish) is a hard community to voice these types of changes. The committee, from my understanding, is going to work to address some of that." 

Green sees the resolution as a way to hold local organizations accountable to the anti-racism stances many took following the George Floyd protests. 

"Everyone in 2020 stood publicly and made these declarations saying they want to stop racism after he died, like (the Baton Rouge Area Chamber)," she said. "Let's see if they will stand by that and support this effort. This can become an opportunity to put action to the words they put out." 


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com