2021 | Government

Plan underway to rename three roads with Confederate ties

County identifying streets, facilities, trails to change

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This story was updated at 4:50 p.m. on Jan. 13, 2021, to clarify current county policy regarding renaming of streets and parks.

Montgomery County officials are moving forward with plans to rename three street names that honor Confederates.

It’s part of the county’s ongoing effort to identify and rename streets, facilities and trails that honor Confederates, Confederate sympathizers, and slaveholders.

The County Council discussed the renaming effort on Tuesday afternoon — two days before the Planning Department will introduce a resolution to begin the process of renaming the three streets: Jubal Early Court, J.E.B. Stuart Road, and J.E.B. Stuart Court.

The three streets are within half a mile of each other in Potomac and were first proposed for renaming at a Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee meeting in December.

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

The former J.E.B. Stuart Trail at Woodstock Equestrian Park in Dickerson was recently renamed the Northern Edge Trail.

James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart was a Confederate Army general and cavalry commander. Jubal Early was a Confederate general. Both Confederates raided Montgomery County during the Civil War.

Early and the Confederates he led were the only contingent of Confederate soldiers who raided Washington, D.C., during the Civil War. They were forced to retreat after failing to seize Washington.

The renaming initiative began when Council Member Andrew Friedson spearheaded a June letter from the council to County Executive Marc Elrich and Planning Department Chairman Casey Anderson. The letter asked for all streets and facility names in the county to be reviewed to determine which are named after Confederates, sympathizers or slaveholders.

The names of the streets in the county are important symbols, Friedson said during the discussion.

“The symbols matter. That is not just what perpetuates institutional racism, but what normalizes it and legitimizes it by making it just almost a regular thing,” he said. “If ever there was a reminder of that, it was this week, when we had people with Confederate flags running into the United States Capitol. That symbol mattered.”

On Jan. 6, a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol while Congress formally finalized President-elect Joe Biden’s election win.

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and the county’s parks and planning departments have begun creating a database of any names of Confederate soldiers, sympathizers and slaveholders who lived in the county.

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.

Staff members have recorded names of 709 Confederates, 5,826 slaveholders, and 3,300 enslaved individuals who lived in Montgomery County.

As of Tuesday, 325 streets and two parks preliminarily matched Confederate surnames, but research is still required to confirm the surname associations.

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

In December, Riemer proposed 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 first phase of the project, which matched nationally known Confederate full names, identified the three Potomac streets — with 65 houses — and the park trail.

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.

Municipalities may rename their own streets.

Part of the process of renaming would require homeowners of the 65 houses to change the address on their utility records, mortgages, deeds and land records — a cost of a couple hundred dollars per property, officials have estimated.

Some council members said the county should look into the specific costs to each homeowner and the ability to set up an opt-in reimbursement program for those costs.

Council Member Sidney Katz noted that the U.S. Postal Service once decided to change one ZIP code into three in Gaithersburg, which resulted in a large amount of work and expenses for homeowners who had to change their address on legal documents.

“The government is requiring it, so we should help with the expenses if there’s any expenses involved in it, and we should help with filling out the forms of doing it because it’s the right thing to do all around,” he said.

Other uncalculated costs include administrative needs for M-NCPPC and removal and replacement of street signs by the transportation department. The emergency services divisions, such as Fire and Rescue Service and other 911 operations, also need to be involved in the process.

Current policy requires that any names for streets cannot be offensive, duplicate an existing street or be phonetically similar to an existing street. The policy also encourages naming park assets after geographic locations or ecological features, neighborhoods, or nearby public facilities.

Council Member Will Jawando said officials need to consider the significance of the new names.

“It’s equally as important that we take the county to not just be neutral — not just remove the harm of the name — but use it as an opportunity to tell the full history of our county and to honor people who have been not honored and underrepresented …,” he said. “It’s not only the work of identifying what are the wrong names and wrong people to honor. There’s just as much importance, if not equal or more, on what we change it to.”

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