On My Mind: Where The Streets Have No (Good) Name
I’ve lived in and around Charlotte for more than 30 years now, and I never knew we had a Jefferson Davis Street.
There’s not a whole lot to it, to be honest. It’s just a couple of blocks long, in the Druid Hills neighborhood, between Graham Street and Statesville Avenue north of uptown. Couple dozen houses. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Except that it bears the name of the former president of the Confederacy. It says Jeff Davis on the street signs, but it’s Jefferson Davis on the map, and in a new report by a city commission that set out to find the city’s streets and monuments that are linked to slavery and racism.
The commission is recommending changing the names of 10 streets. We’ve got two streets named for Stonewall Jackson, one for the Confederate colonel Zebulon Vance, one named for the white supremacist governor Cameron Morrison, and so forth.
Erasing them from our city map is the right thing to do. If you care about their history, there are museums and libraries. Having a street named for you is an honor. They don’t deserve the honor.
But I want to linger on Jefferson Davis Street a second. Because that little street, and where it’s located, says so much about Charlotte then and now.
Druid Hills started out as a mostly white neighborhood, built around the turn of the 20th century for workers at the Ford plant on the site of what is now Camp North End. But in the ‘50s, when white people started fleeing to the suburbs, Druid Hills became one of Charlotte’s most thriving Black neighborhoods. It was the home of many of the city’s Black political and social leaders, including Hattie Leeper, the radio star longtime Charlotteans remember as Chatty Hattie.
Now, things are changing again. White families are moving back into the city, and a lot of the neighborhoods they covet have been mostly Black for decades. So now, houses in Druid Hills are selling for upwards of $200,000 – far more than some of the people living there can afford. So white families will move in, and Black families will have to find somewhere else.
It’s the work of the free market, and on an economic level it makes sense. But you can’t just see it as that. It’s overlaid with the darker forces of our history – the forces that created such a gap in wealth between Black and white people in America. Those forces, in some ways, are the descendants of what people like Jefferson Davis fought for.
We have not beaten those darker forces all the way down. In some ways, the Civil War goes on. But for now I’ll take some hope by thinking about Jefferson Davis Street itself. It crosses only one other street, and otherwise it doesn’t connect to anything.
In other words, no matter which way you go on Jefferson Davis Street, you run into a dead end.
Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section at wfae.org. You can also email Tommy at firstname.lastname@example.org