When the city of Hollywood was founded in the 1920s, Florida was still very much a segregated state. Understanding that his black workers would not be allowed to stay in the city after dark once it was incorporated, J.W. Young, the developer of Hollywood, created an area specifically for African-Americans: Liberia.
Though it is today a neighborhood of Hollywood, local historian Dr. Joan Mickelson tells New Times that when Young originally planned Liberia, he intended it to be a separate city, with streets celebrating the thriving of black life in America.
"The streets are clearly named [in the original plans]. Streets are named for U.S. cities with large black populations, and avenues are named for trees,” said Dr. Mickelson.
But then, inexplicably, sometime after the "egalitarian" Young died, the street names were changed.
Rather than celebrating cities with robust black communities, the street names were changed to commemorate individuals. In the process, Atlanta Street, located at the heart of Liberia, was then changed to Forrest Street, memorializing Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the founder and “Grand Wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan.
“I have not the slightest knowledge of when or why these streets were renamed,” Dr. Mickelson said. “I've never seen a discussion of changing the street names to the north of Coolidge from cities to individuals.”
Forrest Street is not the only public road named after a controversial figure. Just five streets south of Forrest is Hood Street, which, according to the City of Hollywood’s website, is named after Confederate General John B. Hood. Just two streets south of Hood is Lee Street, named after the commander of the Confederate army, Robert E. Lee.
Carlos Valnera, 32, a member of both the Broward Green Party and the Black Lives Matter Alliance of Broward, believes it is "egregious" for public roads, especially in and near Liberia, to be named after "brutal racists" like Forrest, Hood, and Lee.
"These are men who took up arms to perpetuate the institution of slavery, and their names on the street signs is a slap to the face to the people living in this community," he said. "The names of racists belong in history books, not on street signs."
Valnera says that with the names of oppressors of the black community looming over their heads, many current residents of Liberia are supporting a campaign to rename the street signs.
Carmella Gardner, 45, who grew up in the neighborhood and currently lives on Forrest Street, is among them. She told New Times that she believes the reason Atlanta Street was "underhandedly" changed to memorialize the founder of the KKK was to mentally abuse black residents.
“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,” she said. "It's like they want to show they are still in power and in control. It’s abusive."
People from other local communities are also supporting the campaign to rename the streets, Valnera says.
“You don’t have to be Jewish to be offended if a street was named to honor Hitler, and you don’t have to be black to be offended that a street is named after Forrest," he said.
Gardner says that for society to progress, publicly funded racist vestiges must be abolished.
“We only advance so far as humans when we’re unified," Gardner said. "With these signs of subjugation in existence, you think you’re getting ahead but you really aren’t.”
Valnera said that people living in Libera are not just frustrated that their taxes are used to maintain the "atrocious" signs, but that they feel further outraged that city commissioners have been slow to address their concerns.
“Symbols have a meaning; the Statue of Liberty has a significance. Commissioners shouldn’t believe symbols are meaningless," he said. "We all know what Abraham Lincoln's name stands for when it comes to the Civil War, and we know very well what his opponents represented."
Valnera says that Hollywood city officials were poised to discuss the topic of renaming the streets in a commission meeting on June 1; however, they ultimately did not talk about the issue. City officials told New Times that commissioners strictly discuss scheduled items on the agenda and the renaming of streets was not on their agenda.
Nevertheless, activists attended the meeting and tried to press commissioners to comment on the issue.
In response to an initiative aimed at changing Forrest Street to Harriet Tubman Street, Gardner told New Times that she hopes it becomes a reality.
“That will be great. I would love to show my four-year-old granddaughter that sign, and on my street," she said. "The things [Tubman] did were positive and affected thousands of people’s lives."
Update: Clarification, it seems the original Atlanta Street was changed to Forrest Street, and "Liberia Boulevard" was later recouped as Atlanta Street. Most street names were changed to commemorate individuals, with the exception of Charleston and Raleigh. Here is an early plan.
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