A street sign for Jackson Avenue, a roadway up for a name change.
Jackson Avenue, a major thoroughfare in North Memphis, is named after President Andrew Jackson. A recommendation to change the name of this street to Cherokee Avenue is part of a report presented to the Memphis City Council compiled by the City Council Renaming Commission. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

President Andrew Jackson enacted the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which led to the Trail of Tears, a campaign to remove Native Americans from their land. His name soon could be removed from Jackson Avenue, a Memphis part of the trail, and the street renamed Cherokee Avenue.

This is one of 12 renamings for streets and public spaces recommended to the Memphis City Council in a report compiled by the City Council Renaming Commission, formed a year ago. A council committee accepted the report on Tuesday and the full council is set to formally accept it at the board’s Nov. 23 meeting. This would make way for the recommended changes to be brought before the body for consideration.

Other streets identified for renaming include Lamar Avenue and Manassas Street, both with links to the Confederacy.

Like the 2017 removal of Confederate statues, the proposed renamings continue Memphis efforts to remove memorials for racist figures and promote more inclusive values, said commission member Thelma Crivens during her presentation to council members.

The council and commission are “seeking to create a future Memphis not saddled with public spaces that represent a past history of discrimination, violence and intimidation against people of color and others…,” Crivens said at the meeting.

The names of Memphis roads are more than labels on a map for Kenya Bradshaw, chairwoman of the commission. “They are the signifiers of what your community believes,” said Bradshaw in an interview this week.

The 13-member commission, formed in July 2020, crafted criteria for name changes and held public meetings for community input.

Of the thousands of roads in Memphis, the commission, which includes attorneys and clergy, selected several for renaming by narrowing to major streets named for historical figures who were Confederate officials or sympathizers or were known to hold racist views between 1819 and 1965.

However, the commission recommended the council keep the names of some historical figures despite their racist or slave-holding pasts.

Those names, according to the report, include U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, James Monroe; Memphis founders John Overton, James Winchester and Memphis Mayor E.H. Crump.

The commission recommended that historical markers be placed next to statues of Overton and Crump in their respective parks that state the truth of their contributions to the city as well as their racist views.

“It is important for us to not be selective of washing people out of history, but we do have a responsibility to be able to show the fullness of their lives and the harm that they did to citizens and our communities,” Bradshaw said.

However, while the commission identified streets that should be renamed, they did not offer replacements for each one.

“The commission wanted to authentically engage (communities) on streets that were residential and give citizens who live on those streets priority in renaming their roads,” Bradshaw said.

The commission hopes the report also offers a template for a research and evaluation process that, if adopted by the council, would allow more members of the public to submit renaming applications in the future.

Renaming roads is just one more way to promote Memphis’ values, Bradshaw said.

“I hope the recommendations show the values of the diversity of our community, recognize the complex relationship with some of our founding citizens, and are a note of change and progression toward being a more inclusive city.”

Here are the streets and other properties recommended for renaming, and what the report said about the historical figures.

Current Name: Jackson Avenue (Andrew Jackson, 1767-1845)

As president, Andrew Jackson enacted the Indian Removal Act of 1830, forcing Native American tribes to walk from their land across the South to land west of the Mississippi River. Thousands of Native Americans suffered and died during the march, prompting its name “The Trail of Tears.”

Cherokee people used one section of the trail, the Bell Route, which went through Memphis, according to the report.

Proposed Name: Cherokee Parkway

“Renaming the route Cherokee Parkway, instead of the current Jackson Avenue, is another way to acknowledge the humanity of the Cherokee Indians and their arduous journey westward. It is also a way to recognize the historical nature of the street or route itself,” the report says.

Current Name: Lamar Avenue (Lucius Lamar, 1825-1893)

Lucius Lamar was a Confederate lieutenant colonel and minister to Russia. He co-authored Mississippi’s “Ordinance of Secession” from the United States. After the Civil War, he held elected office and remained a white supremacist.

Proposed Name: Vanguard Avenue

Lamar Avenue is integral to the country’s freight transportation system, according to the report. The City of Memphis is working to reposition the street from “auto-centric” uses to businesses that serve the neighborhoods along the way, such as the historic Orange Mound, Glenview, Annesdale and Rozelle neighborhoods.

“The Commission proposes a new name that is consistent with the new focus and new perception of the street. … Vanguard Avenue will have an array of retail establishments that will ‘lead the way’ or ‘be at the ‘forefront’ for economic and community revitalization,” the report says.

Current Name: Manassas Street, between Union Avenue and Madison Avenue; named for the First Battle of Bull Run or Manassas, 1861

The street has the name the Confederate army gave to the first major battle of the Civil War. This section of the street borders Health Sciences Park, which was home to a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest until 2017.

Proposed Name: Black Lives Matter Street

The report recommends the name Black Lives Matter, since the adjacent park long “perpetuated in public space the notion that Black lives did not matter,” the report says.

Current Name: Manassas Street (excluding the section between Union Avenue and Madison Avenue)

Proposed Name: Community recommendation

Current Name: Stonewall Street (Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, 1824-1863)

The Confederate general was key to the army’s success early in the Civil War, defending the institution of slavery.

Proposed Name: Community recommendation

Current Name: Beauregard Avenue (P.G.T. Beauregard, 1818-1893)

P.G.T. Beauregard was a Confederate general involved in almost every important part of the war.

Proposed Name: Community recommendation

Current Name: Dixie Road

Proposed Name: Community recommendation

“Dixie is the name that generally refers to the Southern United States, especially the culture of the South after the Civil War that institutionalized racism and prejudice,” the report says.

Current Name: Bellevue Tennis Center at Jesse Turner Park

Proposed Name: Teresa Jones Tennis Center

The center would be renamed for late Municipal Court Judge Teresa Jones, who died in January, and also previously served on the boards of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools. In her spare time, Jones was an avid tennis player.

Current Name: Fourth Street (from Crump Avenue to Beale Street)

Proposed Name: Ida B. Wells-Barnett Street

Wells, a Black woman, was a late 19th, early 20th-century investigative journalist who exposed lynching in Memphis and spent her life writing in advocacy of equal treatment for women and Black people. A statue of Wells was erected on Beale in July.

A view of Beale and Fourth streets from the Ida B Wells Plaza. A proposed name change for Fourth Street has been made.
A view of the intersection of Beale and Fourth Streets from Ida B. Wells Plaza on Tuesday afternoon. A recommendation to change the name of Fourth Street to Ida B. Wells-Barnett Street is part of a report presented to the Memphis City Council, compiled by the City Council Renaming Commission. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

Current Name: Butler Avenue and Butler Park (Dr. William E. Butler, 1790-1882)

William Butler was a slaveholder who equipped Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.

Proposed Name: Joyce Blackmon Avenue and Park

Joyce Blackmon was the first African American and the first woman to become a vice-president at Memphis Light, Gas and Water. She also spent over 20 years as a guidance counselor for Memphis City Schools.

Current Name: Audubon Park (John James Audubon, 1785-1851)

Audubon Park was named for the famous naturalist, John James Audubon. The report points out that the Audubon Naturalist Society is dropping his name, due to his fight to protect slavery.

Proposed Name: Miriam DeCosta-Willis Park

Dr. Miriam DeCosta-Willis, who died in January at age 86, was a Memphis civil rights activist, author and the first Black faculty member at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis). She had been denied admission to the university in 1957.

Current Name: Gaisman Community Center at Gaisman Park

Proposed Name: Memphis International Community Center 

The proposed change for Gaisman Community Center at Gaisman Park is not the result of racist history, but simply to promote Memphis’ diversity, particularly for the larger Latino communities in the area, according to the report.

Henry Jacques Gaisman was a Memphian and early 20th-century inventor whose creations included a type of safety razor, which led him to eventually run the Gillette Razor Corporation.

Councilman Jeff Warren suggested in the Tuesday meeting that the Gaisman name be kept if this change is pursued.

“I went and I did some research particularly on Gaisman and I don’t know if we realize it but he’s our only park that’s named after a Jewish member of the community,” Warren said. “If I was going to make one change to your document, I’d call it the Gaisman International Community Center.”

With only that change, Warren recommended the council committee accept the report.

“Now, the work is on us to figure out what we’re going to do with it,” Warren said.

Carrington J. Tatum is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email him at carrington.tatum@mlk50.com

Jacob Steimer is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email him at Jacob.Steimer@mlk50.com

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