The Hollywood Commission is moving toward removing streets signs named after Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee, John Bell Hood and Nathan Bedford Forrest and after years of rejection and derision, Benjamin Israel is cautiously optimistic. He won’t feel satisfied until
the signs are actually removed. He is also disappointed that it has taken the Hollywood government so long to come around to removing the signs.
“This is a matter of right and wrong and our duty to correct it. I can’t believe 21st – century politicians are supporting people who were Confederate leaders in the Civil War, a national tragedy,” said Israel. “We live in a screwed-up world.”
He considers the Confederate generals to be animals, not heroes who deserve honor and praise. While many people have great respect for Robert E. Lee, Israel feels very differently. He considers Lee to be a traitor of the worst sort because he was educated at government expense at the U.S. Military Academy, rose to be a a general in the U.S. military and then, “after having received all those benefits, became a traitor and fought against the United States to preserve slavery. Lee was a Confederate leader in some of the biggest battles ever fought on U.S. soil,” Israel said. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a founder of the Ku Klux Klan and was its first Grand Wizard.
“These names never should have been there in the first place. Robert E. Lee would whip his slaves. He said it was necessary to correct black people as a species. How can we honor these men? They led a war in which more than 620,000 mostly white people were killed and they fought to destroy the United States, a nation dedicated to the idea that all people were created equal. What they did was treason and in most countries people who commit treason are executed, not honored,” Israel said.
Another thing that bothers Israel is that so few African-American residents wanted to change the street sign names. When he began his campaign some years ago to have the names on the signs changed, he faced strong resistance from nearly everyone. African-American residents had little interest in changing the names and people who lived on the streets did not want the names changed. Also, members of the Hollywood Commission did not want to bother with changing the names. When Josh Levy became Mayor of Hollywood, Israel said he found an ally he could work with because Levy was committed to changing the signs.
After facing years of rejection and derision, Israel was able to gain supporters for his cause. He and other supporters would speak at Commission meetings and community meetings. Around the nation, Confederate monuments were being taken down. But the Hollywood Commission continued to wait. Some members wanted to get to get the opinions and perhaps approval of residents on the three streets. Others said that history, even unpleasant history should not be removed and the signs offered a brief history lesson. Finally, after heated discussions, a demonstration and the recommendations of more powerful politicians, the Commission voted to move toward changing the street sign names.
Some residents on the three streets have spoken at meetings against removing the signs. There are residents who like the street names, especially Lee. Others simply don’t want the inconvenience of having to change most of their personal documents. Israel has no interest in their feelings on this matter.
“If they are inconvenienced, so be it. How does that compare to the thousands of people who lost their lives and property in the Civil War? They may have to pay a small amount of money to have their driver’s licensed changed but the signs need to come down,” said Israel.
Israel is an Orthodox Jew and believes in the importance of doing the right thing and helping others. He described a time when he helped a woman who got her hand caught in the trunk of her car, when others might have walked away. It bothers him when he sees people allowing their dogs to defecate on the yards of their neighbors.
Israel hopes to continue fighting for the cause of African Americans. He would like to see more unity among the African-American communities in South Florida and hopes to unite these communities and Dania Beach and Hollywood. He is concerned that there has never been an African-American Hollywood Commission member. He believes the police are not held accountable when they shoot a person, particularly an African-American person. He is not comfortable with political leaders and does not trust the political process. “We need to have a more enlightened society,” Israel said.
Israel says he is a fighter and will stand up for what he believes in. He survived prostate cancer and now is fighting lung cancer, although he was never a smoker.
Laurie Schecter is also excited that the Hollywood Commission is likely to change the street signs honoring Confederate
Generals Robert E. Lee, John Bell Hood and Nathan Forrest. She paid $6,000 to the City to start the process of start the process of changing the names.
“I remember as a child seeing those signs and saying this is wrong. I feel it is an ethical and moral obligation to remove the names on the signs,” she said.
Schecter does not believe the Confederate generals should be honored by having streets named after them. “They were traitors and the led a fight against the government. They fought to maintain slavery a horrific institution.”
Schecter said she can understand the fact that some residents don’t want the names changed and they will face some inconvenience. “The residents don’t own the streets. This is about who the City of Hollywood is, not just the people on the streets. We need to change the names on the signs,” she said.
Since Schecter and Linda Anderson submitted the application to change the names, the Hollywood Commission has voted to move toward changing them. Anderson and Schecter want Hood Street to be renamed Macon Street, Forrest Street to be renamed Savannah Street and Lee Street to be renamed Louisville Street. On the application, they state these were the names for the streets Joseph Young proposed for the streets on the original plat.