The possibility of city council renaming Lexington streets looms

A new policy might let Lexington leaders change the names of streets, but residents are not so keen on it


Street names associated with the Confederacy were a topic of heated debate at a recent City Council meeting. Photo by Lilah Kimble, ‘23

Shauna Muckle

Citizens are starkly divided on how Lexington City Council should deal with Confederate-associated

Street names associated with the Confederacy were a topic of heated debate at a recent City Council meeting. Photo by Lilah Kimble, ‘23

street names.

The council held a public hearing April 1 to consider the street renaming policy proposed by the city. Citizens at the hearing disagreed on who should decide whether a street gets renamed—and on whether the streets should be renamed at all.

City Council’s proposed policy leaves the decision to rename up to the property owners on a given street. In order to request a name change, those living on a street would have to submit a petition signifying the support of at least 75% of property owners—excluding renters—and pay a $400 filing fee. 

The council would only consider name changes for streets where a renaming petition was submitted. 

In contrast, a petition circulated by 50 Ways Rockbridge, the Rockbridge branch NAACP and other organizations calls on council to change the names directly, regardless of what property owners want. The petition recommends that City Council establish a citizen’s commission to review name changes and propose new names for the council to pass by resolution.

The petition has garnered over 300 signatures so far, according to an April 1 letter from 50 Ways Rockbridge.Many citizens voiced support for the petition—and expressed opposition to the draft policy from council—in written and spoken comments at the hearing. 

“[The draft policy] passes the leadership buck—and consequences—to a few people for decisions that affect many,” community member Baron Schwartz said in a written comment. “A street’s landowners are a small minority of those who care about the street’s name, and were not elected by the community to represent the entire population’s interests.”

About two-thirds of nearly 50 citizen comments at the meeting said that the council should change Confederate street names directly.

But other residents said that property owners on a street are the main ones burdened by a name change. Those residents expressed support for the council’s draft policy.

“There are legitimate concerns [about] the myriad of paperwork, computer work, phone calls plus potential expenses for changing any legal documents which have your street address,” community member Michael Strickler said.

Others expressed disapproval at the prospect of renaming city streets at all.

“To change them is short sighted, reactionary and reprehensible,” Cynthia Eggleston Robertson said in a written comment. “Lee and Jackson lived here and are buried here. To remove their names is to participate in revisionist history as though the war never happened.”

In the face of fragmented public opinion, council members indicated that they still stood by their policy.

“We represent people who want change and those who don’t,” Council Member Marylin Alexander said. “I prefer compromises in such cases that would have such a negative effect on some residents and would bring a great deal of satisfaction for others.”

Alexander and Council Member Dennis Ayers suggested that the city do a “trial run” with one street, New Market Place, which only has one resident. That resident said he would support changing the name, Ayers said.

New Market Place is named after the Battle of New Market, a battle the Confederate army won during the Civil War. The street also leads to Evergreen Cemetery, the city’s historic Black cemetery.

“It’s painfully ironic that… [some Black residents’] last trip on earth has to be on a street that’s named after a Confederate battle victory,” Ayers said.

Council Member David Sigler said the city should waive the $400 filing fee for any sort of test run. He questioned whether filing a name change petition should cost money at all—especially because it doesn’t cover the full price of renaming.

“If the $400 is an impediment to city residents, I feel like we should have the right to waive it or it should not exist,” Sigler said.

Mayor Frank Friedman recommended that council hold off on any action until the next public hearing on April 15.