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University City task force targets four streets for renaming in first wave

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COVID-19 survivors lose a step after recovery

Josh Wiese, takes a walk break along Pershing Avenue in University City on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, during a morning run. Wiese was an ultra marathoner and now cannot complete a 2-mile run without stopping. After contracting what was likely COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic in March, he has been on a slow recovery. Photo by Christian Gooden,

UNIVERSITY CITY — The task force on renaming streets and parks has researched more than 200 names and delivered recommendations to city leaders. 

“We created three tiers for offensive names," task force member Holly Ingraham told the City Council Monday. "Tier 1 was offensive by criteria in our Task Force resolution, Tier 2 was names of slave owners, and Tier 3 was possibly offensive names, though further research is needed.” 

The task force has been meeting since September. Among its recommendations was for the City Council to first consider renaming four Tier 1 streets:

• Amherst Avenue — named for Amherst College, which was named for Amherst, Massachusetts, which, in turn, was named for Lord Jeffrey Amherst, a British officer in America in the 1700s whom Task Force member Don Fitz called the “grandfather of biological warfare” because he advocated smallpox laced blankets for Native Americans to slaughter them.

• Jackson Avenue — named for Gen. Stonewall Jackson, a Confederate general in the Civil War. Also named for him are Jackson Park and Jackson Park School.

• Wilson Avenue — named for U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who Task Force members said authorized Jim Crow laws, oversaw segregation of many federal agencies, and “saw slavery as relatively benign and and the KKK as harmless.”

• Pershing Avenue — named for General John Pershing, who supported Black troops as “separate but equal,” but those troops were not allowed to participate with American expeditionary forces during World War I. Also named for him is Pershing Elementary School.

Ingraham suggested streets could be renamed after University City residents, universities or colleges, slave revolt leaders, police victims and Black civilians killed by police, or Native Americans. 

Task force recommendations call for considering renaming streets in the second tier as time and resources permit. Those were named for slave holders, such as Robert Forsyth, John H. Gay, Martin Hanley, Peter Lindell, John McKnight, William Price, Virginia Cabanne, James Clemens, George Kingsland and William Woodson.

Names in the third tier need more research, the task force said. They include Princeton, Yale, Chamberlain and Washington avenues and Camden Court.

The task force encouraged the City Council to continue the research on names, as well as look for ways to increase the awareness of the history of names used in University City.

Mayor Terry Crow said the city “needs to work through details” of renaming, such as investigating other communities that “have been down this path” and how they've implemented such changes.

“For example, we need to consider that Pershing goes through the city of St. Louis, and I'm not sure that St. Louis will jump at renaming streets with all they have going on, but they may,” he said.

University City residents who would be affected by name changes "might have different feelings than others,” Crow said.

Councilman Steve McMahon acknowledged that “we may see the reaction to our proposal as complicated, costing money, and being hard to implement, so there will be comments such as “after all these years, why are we doing this?”

Task force chair Susan Armstrong responded, “Amazon will still be able to find you, even if your street name changes.”

Councilman Jeff Hales added “the reality is, we share a history we're not all proud of. It speaks to the changes going on in our country and the world that we're having this discussion.”

Task force member Don Fitz added “we need a full discussion, and I value truth over politeness.”

City Manager Gregory Rose said the city's next steps will be identifying a process for changing names of streets.

“It will be a complicated process. A number of people likely will be inconvenienced if the mayor and council decide to change some street names, but we're interested in doing things right, not doing them fast,” he said.

Ingraham added that “where street renaming is considered, it's important to gather the thoughts of residents and educate them on where the street name came from, even if streets eventually are not renamed.”

Also that night, the Council voted 6 to 1, with only Councilman Bwayne Smotherson opposed, to place a bond issue on the Aug. 3 ballot. Proposition P would provide up to $20 million in general obligation bonds to renovate, improve, furnish and equip the municipal complex.

Projects funded would include accessibility improvements at City Hall, renovations to the City Hall Annex to restore it as a police station, and improvements to the Trinity Building to provide a safe and secure location for municipal court activities and Council meetings.

Smotherson said he objected to putting the police department back in the City Hall Annex.

Crow and the council, in March, reversed a 2016 decision that called for constructing a new police station. The police department has been operating out of temporary trailers adjacent to the building after being forced out by leaks and mold.  


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