by Robin Kemp
District 4 Commissioner DeMont Davis will host a public meeting on whether to rename streets in the county that are named for Confederate Army figures.
Davis said the issue was brought up by a young man “who was a senior at Jonesboro High School. He lived there. And his big brother was white. And his big brother said to do something about it, and kind of went about showing him how to make change. So his big brother stayed on me to kind of move this thing forward. So it’s a good civics–begin to create change in your community.”
However, he declined to name the young man before the meeting “until his big brother or he says ‘Yeah, I’d like to speak.'”
Davis said Robert E. Lee Parkway is on the southbound side of Tara next to Tara Package Store, at the light before Flint River Road. “If you turn left, that would turn into Smith Street,” he said.
“You know where Sports Cafe is, right off Tara Boulevard 19/41? When you make a right turn there, I believe that’s Robert E. Lee Parkway,” Davis said. “And that’s one of the streets that we’re proposing a name change for, as well as many of the streets down in that neighborhood.”
Robert E. Lee was the commander of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Other streets up for discussion include Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, Jeff Davis, “a bunch of battle street names, as well,” Davis said. One of those is Utoy Court, named for the Battle of Utoy Creek.
“Many folks don’t even know drive when they drive down Tara Boulevard that you’ve got a street that you make a right on right there is Robert E. Lee Parkway,” he said. “I’ve asked many individuals, and their response was, ‘I never knew that. I just didn’t pay attention.'”
However, he added, he won’t take any action without consulting with the residents of District 4.
“I’m never going to do anything based upon what I think,” Davis said. “I always want to get the community’s input. Whether I agree with them or not, it’s their right. So I want to hear what they have to say on that, and see where we go.”
Davis said some people have expressed opposition to changing the street names.
“I have heard from one individual that has stated that they did not want us to go through all of that,” he said. “Actually, I’ve heard from about three. One of them appears to say, ‘Look, I just don’t want to send everything in to get my street names changed.”
Bob Wood posted a message to Davis on Facebook: “Mr. Davis, I voted for you and campaigned in my neighborhood for you. I understood from you that you were going to fix the corruption in Clayton County. I must have missed all the corruption work you have been doing since you have time to take on this exercise. Or, do you think that this will help fix the corruption?”
During a recent BOC meeting, Commissioners Felicia Franklin and Gail Hambrick expressed interest in changing Tara Boulevard’s name. Some have suggested renaming Tara Boulevard for Clayton County Police Ofc. Armando Mendoza, who was killed when his patrol car was struck at Tara Boulevard and North Main Street.
However, other residents have tried to rename Tara Boulevard in the past and failed. In 2005, Bob Hartley and several other residents tried and failed to get Tara Boulevard renamed for civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Local politicians were lukewarm on the idea and political rival Gail Buckner said Harley was looking for publicity. Lee Walburn wrote in Atlanta Magazine in 2007, “Even in the metro county of Clayton, residents have resisted attempts to rename Robert E. Lee, Old Dixie Highway, and Tara Boulevard.” Dickey attributed opposition to the name change in part to a 1986 effort to impose a one-cent sales tax for a Tara theme park meant to draw tourist dollars.
Clayton County’s longstanding love affair with Margaret Mitchell’s fictional plantation in Gone With the Wind is even the subject of academic study: Jennifer W. Dickey has written extensively about the myth of Tara and Clayton County in her book A Tough Little Patch of History: Gone With the Wind and the Politics of Memory.
“I’m not going to deal and fight for 19/41 Tara Boulevard at this point,” Davis said, “because one, it’s a state road, and let’s do what we can do first instead of trying to build a whole city. Let’s begin to take a bite out of the apple at a time. If there’s other things that can come out of this, so be it.”
Davis added that he was not looking at every street in the county.
He added that most of the streets are in a residential area, so things like changing company stationery likely would not have a large impact.
“Hopefully, the community will come out and voice their opinion on this,” Davis said. “My ears are going to remain open.”
The meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 31 in the Clayton County Board of Commissioners Board Room, 112 Smith Street, Jonesboro.
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