2020 | Government

County poised to erase Confederate references from streets, facilities

At least 65 home addresses could change

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At least 65 homeowners might need to change their addresses if Montgomery County follows through with a plan to rename streets, facilities and trails that have Confederate references.

The process would require homeowners to change the address on their utilities, mortgages, deeds and land records — a cost of a couple hundred dollars per property, county officials said Monday during a County Council committee meeting.

The county is looking into the specific costs to each homeowner and the ability to set up an opt-in reimbursement program for those costs.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and the county’s parks and planning departments have started creating a database of names of Confederate soldiers and sympathizers who lived in the county, as well as residents who enslaved people in the county. The County Council requested that review on June 15.

The new database can be matched against an existing database of the names of the county’s streets and public facilities to identify potential candidates for renaming.

The first phase of the project, which matched nationally known Confederate full names, identified three streets — with 65 houses — and one park trail.

The three streets are Jeb Stuart Court, Jeb Stuart Road and Jubal Early Court — all within less than half a mile of each other in Potomac. The former J.E.B. Stuart Trail at Woodstock Equestrian Park in Dickerson was recently renamed the Northern Edge Trail.

Jeb Stuart Court and Jeb Stuart Road are part of the Montgomery Square subdivision. Jubal Early Court is part of the Regent Parks subdivision.

James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart was a Confederate Army general and cavalry commander. Jubal Early was a Confederate general.

Council Member Hans Riemer said at the meeting that the streets should be immediately renamed.

“The way to project that this was a community for whites was through these kinds of markers,” he said. “That’s really what this achieved. That’s why it’s there.”

Council Member Andrew Friedson also said the renaming process should be expedited and begin as soon as possible.

“This is active racism to terrorize people and it should be undone as quickly as we possibly can and we can’t let it fall into the bureaucratic morass of the process that can take years if it ever happens at all,” he said.

The county should reimburse residents for the costs associated with changing their addresses, Friedson said.

“Changing the street names of Confederates should not be a controversial thing. To take the burden away, which is the main argument against it, makes sense here,” he said.

The M-NCPPC can rename streets without the approval of residents who live on the streets, but the county expects to include county residents in the process. The final decision of the new names will be up to the M-NCPPC.

Independent municipalities may rename their own streets.

Riemer requested that Whites Ford Way in Potomac and Lee Street in Takoma Park be included in the first streets that are renamed. White’s Ford on the Potomac River was used by Robert E. Lee and other Confederate generals during the Civil War.

The new names for the streets cannot be offensive, duplicate an existing street or be phonetically similar to an existing street, according to the county’s manual on street renaming. Residents can suggest new names once the process is opened.

Residents living on a street may submit a petition for renaming. If the petition is unanimous — meaning, every household on the street agrees — the name change is approved. If it’s not unanimous, the request goes to the Planning Board.

Beyond the costs to homeowners, there is also an uncalculated cost to M-NCPPC for administrative needs and to the transportation department to remove and replace street signs. The emergency services divisions, such as Fire and Rescue Service and other 911 operations, also need to be involved in the process.

There were 325 street names, 30 parks and six trails in the county that matched the surname of a Confederate.

The county has identified 709 Confederate names — 269 of which were residents of the county and 440 of which were senior officers of the Confederate Army, who were not residents of the county and are nationally known names.

The new database also has the names of more than 3,300 enslaved individuals and more than 5,800 names of people who enslaved them.

County officials used digitized local newspapers, burials of Confederate veterans, the Maryland State Archives’ Legacy of Slavery database, tax assessment record, and other sources to create the database. The database is expected to be made public once more information has been added.

Rebeccah Ballo, supervisor of the county’s Historic Preservation Office, told the committee that further research on places containing Confederate surnames is required to connect an association between the named person and the named asset.

As an example, she said Howard Chapel Drive leads to a historically African American church and cemetery, but it’s not clear if the road was named after the Howards — a free Black family dating to at least the 1830s — or a separate Howard family who enslaved people.

County officials expect to continue to add to the database using the names of local Confederates, Confederate sympathizers, and residents who enslaved people.

The County Council expects to receive an update on the project in January.

Council Member Will Jawando said at the meeting that the county should also continue working on addressing racism in the system that produced the street names.

“It’s appropriate that if we’re going to be honest and take note and stock of our history and seek to change and have a new path forward where everyone has opportunity, that we look into this and understand the history, but then also change these street names [to] recognize a more balanced and appropriate view of history ,” he said.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.