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In past years, there have been movements aiming to strip names of white supremacists and Confederate soldiers from street signs and other public spaces in the American South — including in towns in Orange County.

In May 2005, the Town of Chapel Hill renamed Airport Road to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The initial petition to rename the street intended to honor King and his work as a civil rights activist.

Recently, there has been a movement in Carrboro — which is named after white supremacist Julian Carr — to rename a street after Braxton Foushee, a longtime community servant and the current chair of the Town’s Planning Board. The Carrboro Town Council recently proclaimed Dec. 13 as Braxton Dunkin Foushee Day of Service.

Danita Mason-Hogans, a Chapel Hill civil rights historian and activist, is part of the initiative to rename a Carrboro street after Foushee. She said the Orange County Training School-Lincoln-Northside Alumni Association spearheaded the movement.

According to an email from Catherine Lazorko, the communication and engagement director for the Town of Carrboro, there are three circumstances under which a street name can be changed in Carrboro.

One circumstance is when property owners propose a new name, Lazorko said. In this case, 100 percent of the property owners on the street must agree to the change, Carrboro planning director Trish McGuire said.

Another circumstance is when the town council requests a change in a street name, Lazorko said. She said once the Town staff evaluates any conflicts or duplicates, the name change can move forward.

Michael Burton, the land records and geographic information system division manager for Orange County, said it is common for residents to not want a name change, especially since the property owners have to change their licenses, financial documents and any other records with their address on it.

“We do get a lot of opposition from residents,” Burton said. “A lot of people are very fond of their address and don't like change, and unfortunately we deal with that a lot, and we try to mitigate the circumstances as much as possible.”

Burton said over the past five years, he has mainly seen community initiatives start the process of renaming streets. He said that in 2021, there was a large movement in a Hillsborough neighborhood to remove Confederate generals' names from streets.

Mason-Hogans said there was a large interest in reevaluating street names in 2020 during the Black Lives Matter movement. But, since then, she said people have lost sight of the movement and a lot of that work has disappeared.

“Those of us who live in the community hold memory,” she said. “And Chapel Hill and Carrboro are really transient communities, so it's important as a memory worker, it's important for me to bring up histories of people like Mr. Foushee.”

The third circumstance for a street to be be renamed is if there is a duplicate street name in the 911 dispatch service area, Lazorko said.

She said duplicate names can cause a safety issue when an existing naming or numbering address impact the accuracy of dispatching emergency responders and causes delays in service.

“When people are especially under stress — when there's a fire, when there's medical emergencies — that communication piece is very important,” McGuire said.

Burton said the County controls a general database for all of the towns’ emergency services. He said the database allows each of the towns to edit and update data, such as new street names.

McGuire said if emergency services identify a duplicate, 75 percent of the property owners on the duplicate street must agree to the new name. If the owners do not meet that threshold, town staff must select a new name.

The Town of Chapel Hill has a standing naming committee, which is made up of two or more council members. The current committee includes Mayor Pam Hemminger and town council members Karen Stegman, Tai Huynh and Michael Parker. 

The committee makes recommendations for naming, renaming or dedicating Town facilities and streets. To rename existing streets, a group of residents may request that the town manager approve the new name; the manager’s decision may be appealed to the town council by a resident or property owner.

Mason-Hogans said that Black generational community members like Foushee embody service. She also said it is important for local communities to try to reckon with how policies have impacted marginalized communities.

"I think they are largely left out of town history, in terms of the true impact they have," Mason-Hogans said.

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She said the only way to build trusting relationships between towns and marginalized communities is to acknowledge issues like street names and ask, "Who had the power to name this?"


@DTHCityState |

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