Carmella Gardner has many fond memories of Liberia, the Hollywood neighborhood where she grew up, from family get-togethers during the holidays to watching her children play in the same streets she once did.
This summer, however, the 45-year-old African American grandmother says she has quietly suffered because she lives on a street that commemorates the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest. The Klan, of course, has terrorized and lynched thousands of African Americans.
"It's psychologically abusive," she says.
Gardner is not alone. Many in her community and neighboring communities have rallied together over the past year to have the street's name changed.
Recently, activists have noticed, after months of petitioning city leaders, that in a small beach access road, Forrest Street was renamed to Forest Street, which is phonetically identical.
Gardner, who had hoped the city would nix Forrest entirely and rename the street after Harriet Tubman, is livid. She cannot understand what purpose the new name serves.
“Really? If that’s their solution, I really don’t appreciate it at all," she said. "They ought to be ashamed of themselves for doing something so stupid — as stupid as naming the street Forrest to begin with."
Strangely, the new street name does not extend into Liberia (Forrest stretches across Hollywood), the historically black neighborhood where Gardner lives.
Residents are confused in many ways. Among their questions: Why would the officials change the name of a street honoring the grand wizard only in one of its affluent beach-side neighborhoods, but keep the name intact in poor Liberia?
“Do you know why they would change [the street name] in the rich neighborhood and not the poor neighborhood?" Gardner asks. "It’s because their image needs to be upkept, an image of righteousness. A false image of righteousness. They want to appear to have clean hands."
Raelin Storey, the public affairs director for the City of Hollywood, said that commissioners did not selectively change the name of the street. Maybe Hurricane Wilma 11 years ago blew away one of the Rs, said an official who declined to be named. Or perhaps a sign may was replaced years ago and the name was misspelled — the Hollywood Beach Rules sign in the access road still says Forrest.
"City staff does not have any knowledge of these signs being replaced in the last several years. There is some thought that when this section of roadway was redone by Florida Department of Transportation, the signs could have been replaced. There is also a recollection among some that there was damage to several beach street signs during Hurricane Wilma."
Gardner's voice cracked in an interview today with New Times. She said she is exasperated by the "ridiculousness" of city leaders. She called on God to help her and her community resolve this issue. “It’s just too much. God will deal with these oppressors. There is a God, and He sees what they do," she said.
Meanwhile, Carlos Valnera, a member of the Black Lives Matter Alliance of Broward, said he is confused by the recent developments. "Who knew Hurricane Wilma was into playing grammatical pranks on the wholesome and ever-so-considerate commissioners of Hollywood?" he chided.
Valnera told New Times that he is extremely disappointed with city leaders' inaction to rename Forrest Street in its entirety. He says that Hollywood commissioners, including Commissioner Patty Asseff, were seen in early August attending a ceremony in Dania Beach for a park whose named was changed from John U. Lloyd Park, who pushed to keep local beaches segregated, to Dr. Von D. Mizell and Eula Johnson Park, after the civil rights activists who helped usher in "integrated" beaches.
This past May, Commissioner Linda Sherwood said maybe the street should be renamed only in the Liberia neighborhood, but Asseff argued that if the name is changed, it needs to be changed citywide.
"The Hollywood commission continues to neglect the issue [regarding Forrest Street]. It is an outrage and is part of a common lack of concern and, frankly, hypocritical behavior from these public officials," Valnera said.
In July, the city's African American Advisory Council urged commissioners to rename Forrest, but Valnera says city leaders "disregarded" the council's pronouncement and the hundreds of signed petitions supporting a name change.
"[Naming the beach access road Forest] was the result of the commission continuing its pattern of disregard for concerns of communities of color in the city," he said, contending that the most controversial street in Broward was edited by officials on purpose.
Gardner said she still dreams of the street being renamed after Tubman. In the meantime, she, along with many other residents from varying backgrounds, is fed up with city leaders.
“The oppression cannot be ignored anymore. People need to see the oppression still holding us back," Gardner said. “As long as that [Forrest Street] lasts, it will always represent the disregard and disrespect of human life. Period."
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