Confederate Report Suggests Renaming Austin, Texas

by | July 30, 2018

By Philip Jankowski

Known as both the "father of Texas" and the namesake of the state's capital, Stephen F. Austin carved out the early outlines of Texas among his many accomplishments.

He 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."

For that reason, the city of Austin's Equity Office suggested renaming the city in a report about existing Confederate monuments that was published this week.

Also on the list of locales to possibly be renamed: Pease Park, the Bouldin Creek neighborhood, Barton Springs and 10 streets named for William Barton, the "Daniel Boone of Texas," who was a slave owner.

To be sure, the identified streets and parks are only suggested for reconsideration. And the city, Bouldin Creek, Pease Park and the Barton-related landmarks -- a group that includes Barton Springs -- 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

The city estimates that it would cost $5,956 to rename the seven streets.

While the cost of such changes might appear reasonable, 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.

Some 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. It also asked whether the proposed changes reside on a slippery slope.

"What's next and where do we stop?" the report asks.

Any changes to road names would require public hearings and action from the City Council. Before the city changed the two street names in April, the city's staff had reached out to all residents to seek their input.

A change to the city's name, meanwhile, likely would require an election since "Austin" would have to be struck from the city charter and replaced.

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.

Any new street names might fall in line with a 2017 recommendation from the Austin Commission for Women that called for the city to 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.

"It is also important to acknowledge that nearly all monuments to the Confederacy and its leaders were erected without a true democratic process. People of color often had no voice and no opportunity to raise concerns about the city's decision to honor Confederate leaders."

(c)2018 Austin American-Statesman, Texas