Under a blazing hot Hollywood, Florida sun, more than 150 peaceful objectors gathered in front of Hollywood City Hall to rally in solidarity to renounce local street signs named after Confederate soldiers on Wednesday.
An effort to rename the street names in question, Lee Street, named after Gen. Robert E. Lee, Hood Street, named after Gen. John Bell Hood, and Forrest Street, named after Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, also a leader of the Ku Klux Klan had been a part of efforts by activists for many years and gaining political and public support even before the tragedy in Charlottesville.
On Wednesday, their efforts paid off when the Hollywood City Commission voted 5-1 to rename the streets in question bringing a decades long battle to an end.
Peaceful Rally Almost Turns Violent
The groups Take Down Slavery Symbols in Hollywood, Black Lives Matter Broward Alliance, Women’s March Broward Chapter, Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), and SEIU Florida were among the activists assembled for the rally before the city commission meeting. Speakers included award winning author, historian and professor, Dr. Tameka Bradley Hobbs, President of ASALH and Florida Representative Shevrin Jones (D- 101) who was accompanied by Florida Senator Lauren Book (D- 32) and Florida State Representative Richard Stark (D-104).
While addressing the activists at the rally, Dr. Bradley Hobbs stated, “The message that we are sending is that the past can live on in our history books, but not in our community landscape.”
Dr. Tameka Bradley Hobbs, President, Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), South Florida.
After the assembled group sang “We Shall Overcome,” State Representative Jones told the crowd, “Black, White, Latino, Jewish, Straight, and Gay, we are here together standing with colleagues. After these signs come down our policies will need to be in line.”
After additional speakers addressed the crowd, the rapidly expanding group was asked to move down the sidewalk to a sectioned off area. People walked to the designated area chanting slogans like “Hey hey, ho ho, these racist streets have got to go.” Homemade signs with slogans such as “Racist History Belongs in History Books,” “Hate Has No Place in Hollywood,” “Take Down Hollywood Hate Symbols,” and “White Woke Women for Racial Justice,” among others, could be seen amid the crowd.
Captain of the Miami Dade Women’s March, Carrie Feit, stated “This is a revolution against white supremacy. The Women’s March is honored to take part in the fight and very thankful to fellow social justice groups for granting us the space to do so. When the Women’s March was started, we were outraged that Trump won the election. But the fact is that white supremacy elected Trump. Therefore, the real issue is white supremacy that is at the root of social issues. Some people that didn’t think they were affected by it are just catching on. The core of the fight is with white supremacy.”
Hollywood resident Dara Hill, who is a part of the Take Down Slavery Symbols in Hollywood group, provided background information on the efforts of the group.
“When Joseph Young founded Hollywood, the city was segregated. In the neighborhood were people of color resided the street signs were named after thriving black cities and was meant to be dignified and empowering,” Hill said. “Those street names were later renamed for Confederate generals for revisionist history to maintain white supremacy. It’s pretty warped. We don’t have street signs named after Timothy McVeigh. We don’t condone murder.”
Hollywood was founded in 1925 and has no historical claim to the confederacy.
Hill also stated that she and her group as well as other groups spent years canvassing the neighborhood that would be affected by the street sign name changes.
“We received overwhelming support. When people ask why aren’t there more people here today from the Liberia neighborhood, it’s because they are working,” Hill said. “Not everyone can take the day off and get paid for it.”
The peaceful rally almost turned violent when a white nationalist, Christopher Monzon, lunged toward a group of activists with his Confederate flag. Police officers immediately apprehended and arrested the 22-year-old Hialeah man. He was later charged with aggravated assault, disorderly conduct, and inciting a riot.
“The white man made this country,” he was heard yelling earlier. “You’re lucky to be here. Florida is my home, and I will defend it.”
Earlier, Monzon protested the rally by waiving his Confederate flag and wearing a shirt with a logo of Florida League of the South, a white supremacist organization labeled as a “racist hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Throughout the day he hurled racial and anti-Semitic insults at the crowd.
After the arrest the rally continued to go on peacefully with no other verbal or physical altercations.
Dara Hill, Hollywood resident.
The Commission Meeting
Later in the day, hundreds of people lined up for security clearance to gain access to the Hollywood City Commission Chambers to participate in the hearing on the resolutions to change the Hollywood street names. With 132 people signed up to speak for the hearing, and that many people waiting in the lobby for the item numbers to be called, just as many people waited outside of the building who could not gain access due to over capacity inside of the building.
Among those who waited in the Commission Chambers lobby for two hours was Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL- 23), State Representative Shevrin Jones (D- FL-101), and Broward County Property Appraiser Martin Kiar. Close to 6 p.m. people were called into the City Commission Chambers for the items pertaining to the street renaming.
Once the Commission Hearing began, Chief Civic Affairs Officer, Lorie Mertens-Black gave a presentation that illustrated the street names in question prior to 1926 that ran through the Liberia neighborhood of Hollywood. The presentation showed that the evolution of the street names in question prior to 1926 and after 1926 when the street names were changed under Ordinance 76.
Among the more than 132 people signed up to speak were various elected officials.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz also to the Commission.
“Changing these street names won’t come close to addressing the issues of systemic racism and intolerance that still plagues our society but it is a vital and necessary step in the fight against these repulsive prejudices. At its heart, the question before you today is a question of basic human decency. No parent should have to explain to their child that the street they live on is named after someone who fought for the right to keep people enslaved. No person of any race should feel obligated to honor an individual who did not recognize their basic human dignity.”
State Representative Joe Gellar (D- FL- 100), followed the Congresswoman with public statement. “Let’s be clear. This is increasingly important after the recent tragedy in Charlottesville. It’s really underscored the divisions that we face in our country and the need to be on the right side of history.”
Representative Gellar went on to say that the street renaming that took place in the late 1920’s was historically related to Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan that was on the rise and a power in our national politics at the time.
“Nathan Bedford Forrest was not just a civil war general for the Confederacy. This is the man who was the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. This was a murderer and a torturer and someone with no respect for human decency,” Gellar said. “Living on a street named after him is like being asked to live on Hitler street. It’s disgraceful. It’s horrific.”
State Senator Lauren Book (D- FL- 32) spoke next and said, “I am going to borrow the words from a man far greater than myself. An abolitionist and a freedom fighter, a former slave, a statesman and an American hero, Frederick Douglass. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. These words echo of so long ago but are incredibly impingent today. Throughout history we’ve seen men and women stand up to the status quo. To fight for what’s right now I believe it’s our time. I’m here today to tell Ben Israel, a Hollywood resident who has been fighting for the removal of these signs for nearly two decades that we are here with them. I am here today to tell resident activist Linda Anderson and Laurie Schecter who paid $6,000 out of their own pockets that we are standing beside them. These Hollywood residents and many of their peers throughout the city, throughout the county, and our great state have been fighting to ensure that our public streets and our public works reflect the spirit of our community.”
State Representative Shevrin Jones also addressed the Commission.
“Today we celebrate unity and what it looks like. We celebrate democracy and what it looks like. And we celebrate power and what power looks like. The power of the people. I want to share what General Mattis told our troops overseas. He told them to hold the line. So that’s what I want to tell you today. To the City Commission and to everyone sitting in this room today, with this opportunity that we have, we gotta hold the line. We gotta hold the line against injustice. We have to hold the line against hatred. To ensure that individuals are treated fairly. But while we are holding the line and working to take monuments of hatred and signs of bigotry down let’s ensure one thing. Let’s ensure that the policies that follow them show the justice that we look like. Ensure equality. Ensure fairness. Ensure a fair education system. Ensure that the criminal justice system is fair for all black, white and individuals. So while we’re working to take signs and monuments down, make sure at the same time when we walk outside of those doors that we don’t walk out of here divided because it’s not us against them. It’s a we thing.”
Florida Representative Shevrin Jones (D- 101).
After various other elected officials and public statements were heard over the course of several hours, positions ranged from those who cited humanitarian and social justice reasons to rename the three Hollywood street names in question, to those who opposed the renaming of the streets citing personal inconveniences and concerns about possible financial costs involved.
Frustrations that a resident vote was not taken and waived by the City Commission were also cited, as well as some people denying that the street names are racially motivated and have any connotations to oppression.
Benjamin Israel, an African American Orthodox Jewish man and native New Yorker who moved to Hollywood in the late 1970s and has been fighting to change the street names for decades said during the Commission hearing that the issue was more of a moral matter than a racial matter.
Some speakers recounted personal stories, such as a Hollywood resident who stated “I am here this evening because I am a daughter of a Holocaust survivor. I have seen what anger, hatred and ignorance can do. I have seen how people’s lives have been destroyed by it. And I realize that over the last 50 years we have made a lot of strides and a lot of good will but it has to be continued.”
While some speakers appeared tense, only a handful of speakers appeared to be verbally confrontational.
One Hollywood resident addressed the City Commission and audience with a raised voice.
“You have enslaved your own hearts and souls with your own hatred. And you will never truly be free until you let go of that hatred. Renaming streets and refighting a war that happened over 150 years ago isn’t gonna do it. It’s not going to make the black people any more free, it’s not going to give you anymore rights, all it’s gonna do is cause more racism because there are people out there who never had a racial thought in their life, and now their gonna have to go change everything in their life and they’re gonna say oh those…” said the speaker taking a long pause. “…you know what I’m talking about.”
After fulminating against the City Commission with choice words such as “cowards” and a condemnation against the Democratic Party, the speaker closed off by slamming his fist on the podium.
Pastor Michael Anderson of New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Hollywood challenged the audience on the comments regarding “inconvenience” and said that he if took anyone in the audience’s family members for one week, as his people were taken for hundreds of years, he would return them to their families “fed, loved and affirmed.”
“I would never do to anyone what was done to my people,” Pastor Anderson said. “It’s a moral compass. The only people who do not understand that are not human.”
By 10:20 p.m. public statements concluded and the City Commission began their discussion on the resolutions to change the street names. A little more than an hour later the City Commission voted 5 to 1 to rename Forrest, Hood and Lee Streets.
Mayor Josh Levy, along with Commissioners Kevin Biederman, Dick Blattner, Debra Case and Linda Sherwood voted in favor. Vice Mayor Traci Callari voted against and Commissioner Peter Hernandez walked out before the vote. A five-vote super-majority was required for it to pass.
Hernandez abruptly left the meeting during the discussion while stating procedure was violated.
The City Commission will set a meeting next week to identify and discuss what the new street names will be. The City Engineer will be expected to notify the post office, utility companies, city departments and divisions of the new street names. Property owners will need to notify their banks, credit card companies, cell phone carriers, medical care providers, insurances, schools, social security office and department of motor vehicles on their new address.
Reactions to the vote were mixed ranging from joy and relief that history is being put into its proper perspective and place to frustration with those opposed citing concerns of financial burden associated with the decision.
Dr. Tameka Bradley Hobbs, President of the South Florida Chapter of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History stated, "The removal of the street signs named after Confederate generals should be a non-issue. These men fought a traitorous war against the United States, and their names were enshrined on street signs in 1923 as way to uplift the philosophy of white supremacy. It's an outrage that there are black citizens in Hollywood that have to live on streets names for these men. I'm glad the commission has taken a step in the right direction, but the expense for the change shouldn't be visited on the residents."