Hollywood Florida appears to be following a meandering pace in addressing its entrenched symbols of slavery. As has been noted in previews posts the city has several street names paying tribute to the vicious legacy of slavery. Streets targeted are Forrest, Hood and Lee.
After approaching the commission since mid-2015, until recently, the BLMAB, the Broward Green Party, the Broward Dream Defenders, the African American Diaspora Think Tank and others have encountered aloofness and disregard for the issue.
Despite approaching the city commission with the issue on multiple occasions, the city has claimed lack of awareness. Despite hundreds of signed petitions by Hollywood residents submitted to the city commission, the city has claimed to be unaware of public sentiment. More recently, the city appointed vacancies to various advisory councils and boards. One of them, the African American Advisory Council (AAAC), with 16 members had 7 vacancies. On May 25th, there was a meeting called “Special City Commission Meeting – Annual Advisory Board Appointments”, where 6 of the 7 vacancies were appointed to this council. The very next day on May 26th, the AAAC met. Referring to the street renaming, its agenda items included “What Steps Should the City Commission take next?”. After a lengthy discussion, the council agreed with the following: “The city commission should exempt itself (when eligible) from renaming procedures, waive all fees associated with the streets and identify a new name(s) via public participation.” Meaning, that the city should be exempted from the process, that it should happen per decision of the council, that related fees should be waived, and that community input should aid in the renaming process. On May 26th, the Council did not have a quorum for an official pronouncement. The council is to meet every month, it choose to meet less than two weeks later. On June 7, with a quorum it voted to take down and replaced all three street names.
We know something very clear from these developments. We know that when politicians want something to happen, one usually finds out in the paper when it is a done deal. It’s frankly confounding having to jump through all these hoops. So far, they have claiming lack of awareness, they have claiming lack of awareness of public sentiment, and after this AAAC vote it would be probable that further excuses or obstacles may be presented for why this has not happened yesterday.
Having the AAAC voting in the affirmative twice to have these names replaced (first without a quorum, then with a majority), an advisory council, but nonetheless a council with members residing in the very areas where these streets cross must speed up and culminate the renaming process. On July 6th the AAAC will present their recommendations to the city commission.
At the same time, despite all these developments, there has always been a constant and clear understanding of what these symbols represent for the community. In referring to these names, grandmother, and lifelong resident of Forrest Street, Carmella Gardner, has said, “It’s psychological play, actually. They say they want us to be free, yet at the same time they place these signs of oppression and degradation … it’s like they want to show they are still in power and in control. It’s abusive.”
Dr. Joan Mickelson, who has also worked with the Hollywood Historical Society, and is the biographer of the founder of Hollywood, Joseph Young, has said, “isn’t it time that the streets that were part of Young’s original plan were changed back to the names he gave them, on the plat for Liberia in the Broward County records, drawn by Frank Dickey in 1923”.
Hollywood Residents, its historians, the whole community wants this to be done. All three streets are entrenched symbols of an atrocious past still with us today. In canvasing Hollywood’s neighborhoods one encounters shock at realizing the history behind these names, and the desire for the positive intention of original names to be reclaimed. More appalling though, is the perception, and what to most is proof of a real callous reluctance from the city, the fact that knowing of this issue changes have still not happened. Either city officials do not know the city they are governing and its history, or they simply have a serious disregard for their constituency. After all, there have been campaigns trying to accomplish these very simple changes since 2002.
Despite official reluctance from city officials for more than a decade, there’s been recent developments in the right direction which can be acknowledged. What’s absolutely resolute though and without misgivings, is the commitment from the community of Hollywood for this to happen, and to happen in a prompt manner. As Benjamin Israel, one of the figures in the community involved with this issue since 2002, has succinctly and honestly put it, “There is only one issue — morality”. City official may have the power of the pen to sign off these changes, but the community has dignity, and this must certainly propel the city to finally do what is right.