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How Can You Request To Have A Charlotte Street Renamed?

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Claire Donnelly
Charlotte resident Martin Pruitt wants to petition the city to rename Barringer Dr.

This story was updated February 2, 2021 to add context and history about the Clanton Park neighborhood.

In late October, Martin Pruitt was listening to WFAE when he heard a story about Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ plan to rename Barringer Elementary. He recognized the name immediately.

“I figured, ‘Well, maybe that’s the same as [the] Barringer road that runs right through my neighborhood,’” Pruitt said.

Pruitt, the high school youth director at Covenant Presbyterian Church, has lived with his wife, Anna, in a small brick house in west Charlotte’s Clanton Park neighborhood since 2018.

Barringer Drive winds along the edge of several west Charlotte neighborhoods. Pruitt said he had driven or walked by the sign many times and never thought much about who it might be named after.

What’s In A Name?

Barringer Drive is named for Osmond Barringer, a Charlotte developer and automobile enthusiast. He drove the first car into Charlotte in 1902, according to The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Osmond Barringer was also a white supremacist. Local historian Tom Hanchett says Barringer led a parade as part of a campaign for poll taxes and literacy tests that would keep Black people from voting.

“Back then we didn’t have a Ku Klux Klan,” Hanchett said. “We didn’t have people in white robes, but the leaders of the white supremacy campaign urged that everyone dress in red shirts, and there was a grand march of several hundred people up Tryon Street in the summer of 1900."

Osmond Barringer also donated some land for Revolution Park in 1929. But, according to Hanchett, the donation included a clause that said if African Americans were ever allowed to use the park, the donation was voided.

Osmond’s father, Rufus Barringer, was a general in the Confederate army. His brother, Paul Barringer, was a physician and chairman of the faculty at the University of Virginia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hanchett said Paul Barringer advocated for segregation and eugenics. The University of Virginia removed Paul Barringer’s name from one of its hospital wings in 2019.

In Clanton Park, Martin Pruitt, who is white, was upset to learn about Osmond Barringer and his family.

“They didn’t want people of color to be in this community and now their name is on a street that runs through a neighborhood mostly of people of color,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt said he wants to petition the city of Charlotte to change the name of Barringer Drive. So he asked FAQ City: How can I request to have a Charlotte street renamed?

The Legacy Of The Confederacy

R.J. Harvey, vice chair of the Clanton Park Neighborhood Association, said that the group had been working with area city council and school board members since at least October to try to rename Barringer Drive but decided to focus on Barringer Elementary first.

“We’ve been subjected to this kind of crap all of our lives. Where they get name recognition and have persecuted our people,” Harvey, who is Black, said.

For years, groups of Charlotteans have called for certain street names to be changed. After recent protests over racial injustice, the Charlotte City Council created a group called the Legacy Commission to study the city’s streets and monuments “that honor the legacy of Confederate soldiers, slave owners and segregationists.”

The commission is expected to present its recommendations to the council on Dec. 14. Among the names the commission could recommend changing is Stonewall Street, named for Confederate general Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson. It could also suggest renaming Hill Street, believed to be named after Confederate general Daniel Harvey Hill, or Jefferson Davis Street, named after the president of the Confederate states.

White Flight In Clanton Park

About 68% of residents in the Clanton Park area self-identify as Black or African-American, according to 2017 data from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Quality of Life explorer. But it wasn’t always that way.

In the early 1950s, the neighborhood was “mostly open farm fields and woods” until homebuilder John Crosland began constructing about 300 homes on the north side of Clanton Road, local historian J. Michael Moore writes in a paper called “When Clanton Park Became African American.”

Just over a decade later, the new Charlotte west side subdivision was home for hundreds of white families, Moore writes.

But in 1967, a proposed apartment complex sparked conflict. According to Moore, a developer wanted to build 250 units on roughly two dozen acres adjacent to the neighborhood and rent them at “moderately affordable rates.” Residents protested, Moore writes, arguing that the complex would decrease property values and overwhelm local schools.

“At their base, their concerns were about the possibility of African Americans moving in and making Clanton Park a place unattractive to white people,” Moore writes.

According to Moore, the proposed apartments led to a “panic” and “mass exodus of white homeowners.” Despite residents’ efforts to halt the project, construction began on the Roseland Apartments in 1968. Black families, faced with limited opportunities for homeownership, moved in and, Moore writes, Clanton Park was “very clearly an African American neighborhood by 1969.”

How Can You Request To Rename A Street?

Charlotte’s Department of Transportation has a set process for residents to request street name changes. First, residents must pick their top three choices for the new street name. The proposed names cannot be longer than 21 letters or include a direction, like “N” for “North.” The proposed name must include a roadway type, like “street,” “avenue” or “drive.”

“There can’t be any duplications,” said CDOT spokesperson Scierra Bratton. “For example, if there is a Parsons Drive, it wouldn’t be permissible to have that same street. But something like Parsons Hill Road would be acceptable.”

Bratton said the proposed new street also can’t include punctuation, the name of a business or what CDOT referred to as a “possibly offensive name.”

After residents submit their request to CDOT online, if one of the proposed new names is available and acceptable, CDOT will mail them an official petition. Residents must get approval from 75% of property owners along the street. If approved, the name could be changed in “two to three months,” Bratton said.

A team at CDOT will then begin notifying other agencies of the name change, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, the state Department of Transportation and the U.S. Postal Service. CDOT will also make new street name signs.

“The cost is usually $250. However, that can fluctuate depending on the number of signs that have to be replaced,” Bratton said.

According to Bratton, about 10 to 15 people each year request Charlotte street name changes. She said there was a slight uptick this year, about 10%, but it’s not clear whether that’s connected to the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

Back in Clanton Park, Martin Pruitt said he would consider asking to rename the street after Charles Sifford, who grew up in Charlotte and broke golf’s color barrier by becoming the first African American on the PGA Tour in 1960. But he said he’s open to other suggestions.

“I would love for us to do some digging and to find other incredible native Charlotteans of color that we could replace the name of a white supremacist with their name on this road,” Pruitt said.

WFAE’s Ann Doss Helms contributed reporting.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.