A movement to rename Dixie Highway — for some a painful reminder of a tragic, racist past — might be gaining steam in Broward County.
The argument is being made by one of Broward County’s youngest elected officials after she heard of a similar effort in Miami-Dade.
The name Dixie harkens back to an era that glorified slavery and white supremacy, says 22-year-old Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana. Her fellow city commissioners agree, approving a resolution in early December urging Broward commissioners to take up the cause.
Broward Mayor Dale Holness says it’s an idea worth exploring and plans to bring it up for discussion early next year.
“It would be good to have input from the community, to hear their voices and what their thoughts are,” Holness said. “I am not opposed to renaming the street. The dilemma is some people are going to want Dixie to stay. They are going to talk about heritage also.”
Javellana pitched the idea after learning of an effort by Miami-Dade Commissioner Dennis Moss to rename Dixie Highway for Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who helped lead others to freedom before the Civil War.
“Dixie was the term for the South during the Civil War,” Javellana said during a Hallandale meeting on Dec. 4. “It was also a song that became the anthem of the Confederacy, with lyrics that were painting a positive imagery of slavery, talking positively of picking cotton. It’s not reflective of the times we’re in.”
On Thursday, Javellana said she’d like to see Dixie Highway renamed Freedom Highway.
In Riviera Beach, a portion of Dixie Highway is now known as President Barack Obama Highway, Javellana noted. And in Hollywood, three streets once named for Confederate generals are now known as Hope, Freedom and Liberty.
“It’s part of the whole movement to take down symbols of the Confederacy,” Javellana said of her attempt to rename Dixie. “I would love a Freedom Highway. That would be beautiful.”
The debate has not yet come up in Palm Beach County, but that could change, says County Commissioner Mack Bernard.
“We’re keeping an eye on it,” he said Friday. “I haven’t had a chance to speak to staff, the county attorney and county administrator.”
Bernard says he’d want to learn more about costs and other issues before suggesting that Palm Beach County find a new name for Dixie Highway.
In 2017, State Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-Hollywood, urged that cities throughout Florida rename their stretches of Dixie Highway.
“The name has divided our country,” he said at the time. “There should be no recognition of it. It does not represent who we are and what we stand for as a country today.”
On Thursday, he said he was happy to hear Broward’s mayor was taking up the cause.
“I’d love to have Old Dixie Highway be a road of black history, whether it’s Freedom Highway or Harriet Tubman or Barack Obama,” he said.
Not everyone is on board.
Hollywood resident Pat Asman fumed at her city for changing its street names two years ago and didn’t take too kindly to the thought of changing Dixie either.
“Come on,” she said. “I’m 81 years old and that name has been on that street for years. Someone from New York must have come down here and had a problem with it. I think it’s stupid. That street goes all the way through the United States. You’re not going to change history. And it costs money to change those street names.”
Broward Vice Mayor Steve Geller said he was not averse to the idea of coming up with a new moniker for Dixie Highway.
“I do think it’s appropriate to rename it,” he said. “But I don’t want to spend years figuring out what the new name should be. Otherwise it would be known as the street with no name — and that would be bad.”
Other details also would need to be worked out, including how much any new street signs might cost and who would pay for them.
Jones said he had no idea.
“That’s the difficult part,” he said. “Before we talk about any name change, we need to find out who’s going to pay for it. I’m sure the signs are expensive.”
Javellana thought the county might pick up the tab.
Holness thought the cities would pay.
Geller, a former state senator, said it could be a combination of the state, county and cities, depending on who has jurisdiction over the road.
Dixie Highway runs through seven cities in Broward: Dania Beach, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Oakland Park, Pompano Beach and Wilton Manors.
Geller shuddered at the possibility of each city coming up with its own name.
“I’d hate to make it more confusing by naming it five different things,” he said.
Benjamin Israel, the Hollywood resident who led the charge to rename three Hollywood streets named for Confederate generals, agreed.
“That can be confusing for out-of-towners,” he said. “They should come up with the same name.”