The Hollywood Commission is moving toward changing the names of signs named for Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee, Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Bell Hood.
During a recent meeting, Commissioner Linda Sherwood said she believed the names on the signs should be changed and made a motion to change the names.
Commissioner Debra Case agreed and said that the signs should be changed now. She read each street name and then said it should be changed.
Members of the Commission held a discussion on how the process should work. The City’s process includes mailing ballots to homeowners on the streets to get their opinion on renaming the streets. But it is ultimately the decision of the Commission on renaming street signs. The discussion at times became heated and some commissioners wanted the signs changed immediately. Acting City Attorney Alan Fallik insisted that the City following the noticing process before a major decision is to be made. The matter will be come before the Commission again on August 30, following a summer break.
The Commission voted to waive the City’s process that requires that property owners on the three streets receive mailed ballots so they can vote on the issue.
The renaming of the signs has been a very contentious issue recently in Hollywood. About two years ago, some of the signs were covered and it was considered an act of vandalism. But a group of community activists have been persistent, attended commission meetings and community meetings asking that the signs be changed. Benjamin Israel has been leading the effort for many years and believes the signs honor men who betrayed the United States and led a brutal civil war to preserve slavery. The movement has gained momentum in Hollywood as cities in other parts of the U.S. have taken down monuments honoring Confederate leaders.
Recently, there was a large demonstration outside of City Hall in which people in favor of changing the signs and others in favor of keeping the signs exchanged harsh words.
During the meeting, Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said the signs should be changed. He stressed the importance of equality in the United States and described slavery as the nation’s original sin. “These men may have been great warriors but they were not patriots. They worked to overthrow the United States,” he said.
Broward County Property Appraiser Marty Kiar expressed support for changing the signs. “These men fought to uphold slavery and prejudice,” he said. Kiar read a letter from Sheriff Scott Israel asking for a change of the signs.
Commissioner Peter Hernandez said that if the signs were to be changed, all streets in Hollywood should be numbered. Vice Mayor Traci Callari said she believed if the signs were to be changed there should be a moratorium of ten years on changing more street sign names. Also, the idea was raised of having duel names on the streets for a time so that people could adjust to having new names on the streets.
Mayor Josh Levy has said that the street signs should be changed. Commissioner Kevin Biederman has also been a strong advocate of changing the street sign names.
A group of speakers said the signs should be changed because the signs represent hatred, bigotry and the oppression of African Americans.
Rev. Michael Anderson said he believes the names on the signs represent a time when African Americans were abused by slave holders. He described a time when as a young man he participated in a beating of another person when he could have stopped it. To this day he feels regret for his actions.
Cindy Johnson said, “I think the signs represent hidden racism. We should not be honoring men with street signs who fought to preserve slavery,” she said.
Wendy King, a leader of the effort to remove the signs said it is time to remove the signs. “We need to make progress. The cost to the residents on the streets would be minimal,” she said.
One resident said she believed the signs should remain in place and that most of the people who want the signs changed don’t live on the streets. One concern that people have raised is that that the renaming of the signs will cause inconvenience for residents on the streets. They will have to have their personal documents changed.
If the Commission votes to change the signs, it is possible that Forrest Street will become Savannah Street, Hood Street will become Macon Street and Lee Street will become Louisville Street.
During the July 3 Hollywood Commission meeting Commissioner Linda Sherwood made a motion to change the names of the three street signs named for Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee, John Bell Hood and Nathan Bedford Forrest. She told her fellow commissioners that after some meditation on the matter she believed the signs should be changed.
Prior to this motion, a process had been started to mail ballots to the residents on these streets asking whether not they wanted the names on their streets changed. I don’t believe the ballots had actually been mailed. The process began when Laurie Schecter and Linda Anderson filed an application on June 21 with the City of Hollywood requesting the changing three street signs. A fee of $2,000 per sign or a total of $6,000 was paid to the City for the names to be changed.
Shortly after Sherwood made the motion Commissioner Debra Case said the signs should be changed and then read the name of each sign and said each name should be changed.
Then there was a heated discussion among the commissioners on how the process of changing the names on the signs should be carried out. It appeared that some commissioners wanted the signs changed immediately while others wanted to allow the City’s process to be carried out. Some of the commissioners appeared unsure of which course of action to take.
Acting City Attorney Alan Fallik told the Commission to wait for an upcoming meeting to make the decision so that the community could be notified that the Commission was to decide on changing the names of the streets. It was said that residents on the streets should be given notification that the Commission might vote to change the names of their streets.
Vice Mayor Traci Callari said that if the names on the signs were to be changed a moratorium, possibly as much as ten years should be imposed so that no other street signs in Hollywood should be changed. Commissioner Peter Hernandez said that if the names are to be changed than all signs in Hollywood should be changed to a number. Commissioner Kevin Biederman then raised the question if signs that are not named after a person should be changed as well. Also, it was said that for a period of time, the streets should have duel names so that people can become accustomed to the names changes. Biederman has been a strong supporter of the name changes and has advocated for it during recent meetings. Mayor Josh Levy has been a strong supporter of changing the names on the signs since taking office. Commissioners Dick Blattner, Biederman, Sherwood and Case and Mayor Levy voted to waive the policy requiring a ballot be mailed to residents on the streets where the names might be changed.
The sign issue has evolved considerably over the past two years since some of the signs were covered and it was considered an act of vandalism. Benjamin Israel, a community activist has been fighting for years to have the signs changed. Initially many of the commissioners believed that the name Forrest should be changed because he was one of the founding leaders of the Ku Klux Klan. But they believed the sign honoring Robert E. Lee should remain because many people in the South revere Robert E. Lee. Opinions on John Bell Hood were less strong because he was not as well known.
Benjamin Israel and his fellow activists kept speaking out at meetings and became more demanding of the sign change. Most of the activists consider the signs an affront to African Americans and the struggles they have faced and continue to face in the United States.
A problem with the sign situation is that many people on the streets like the names of their streets and some respect the lives of Lee, Forrest and Hood. Some believe that they should honored as soldiers who were fighting for a cause they believed in. Others have said that history, even if it is unpleasant, should be remembered and respected. Some residents on the streets don’t like the fact that they will have to have personal documents such as driver’s licenses and the deeds to their properties changed.
The Hollywood Commission is now facing significant pressure to change the signs. In other cities in the U.S. including New Orleans, monuments honoring confederate leaders are being taken down. There is a growing sense that men like Lee, Forrest and Hood were not soldiers fighting for an honorable cause, rather they were traitors fighting to destroy the United States and to preserve the evil institution of slavery. The City of Hollywood is getting unwanted attention from major media outlets and more people are coming to meetings to protest the signs.
At a recent demonstration outside of City Hall, a group of people came together to advocate changing the signs. Community leaders gave speeches on the fact that the signs represent hatred and bigotry. Another group came and advocated keeping the signs in place. They shouted complaints that conservative U.S. values are under attack. Some came dressed in military style clothing. There was considerable police presence and there was a line of officers between the two groups. Also, at recent community and commission meetings there has been far more police presence.