Hollywood, Florida, has three streets named for men who murdered people in order to keep black people enslaved. One of those three people also helped found the Ku Klux Klan. Hollywood has known about this for years, because efforts to rename the street signs only really jump-started after New Times Broward-Palm Beach's Chris Joseph wrote a story in 2015 pointing out the real history of the streets' namesakes.
That was exactly two years ago last Friday. Since then, the City of Hollywood has made a series of excuses as to why it's too expensive to stop honoring murderers and racists in public. The fight erupted into a protest and ugly counterprotest this week that included white supremacist flags and racial slurs hurled at a black state representative.
Here's a brief history of how things have gone down:
It’s been almost a week since the Charleston, South Carolina, shootings. And the nation has moved from mourning to outrage to debate. The arrest of alleged shooter Dylann Roof has brought to light whether Southern states should have Confederate flags flying in government buildings. The debate has gone national, and on Monday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced that the flag will be taken down. This then led the speaker of the state of Mississippi to call for the Confederate flag to be removed from the state flag's design.
While Florida removed flags with the Confederate emblem on them from State Capitol grounds in 2001, there are still remnants of the old South remaining. Specifically in Broward County, where at least three unassuming streets honor Confederate generals. While many streets throughout the county are named after presidents and Union generals, these three — which are all near Sheridan in Hollywood — remain, as ever, homages to generals who fought for the South.
On the heels of South Carolina voting to take down the Confederate flag from its Capitol grounds and Marion County voting to fly the Confederate flag again and a New Times article reminding everyone that the City of Hollywood has several streets named after Confederate generals, a group calling itself #BlackOutWhiteSupremacy has decided to literally black out street names with said Confederate heroes.
Hollywood Police says they are looking to crack down on the group responsible for painting over street signs named for Confederate generals in the city. On Wednesday, New Times reported that a group calling itself #BlackOutWhiteSupremacy had claimed responsibility for painting over signs on Forrest Street and Lee Street as a form of protest.
"For years Hollywood, among many other cities in the U.S., has contributed to systematic racism by allowing the names of these atrocious Confederate solders to be glorified to this day," the group said in an email statement. "We have had to take matters into our own hands against white supremacy. We call on people of conscience to #BlackOutWhiteSupremacy. Hollywood needs to set the example for the rest of the country to combat seemingly innocuous acts of racism in our communities."
On Thursday, police responded, calling the protest an act of vandalism and placing extra police to patrol North Surf Road and Forrest, and North Surf Road and Lee St.
On Wednesday evening, activists from the Green Party and Dream Defenders (who did not take credit for the street sign vandalism) addressed City of Hollywood commissioners and demanded the removal of Confederate street names and suggested the streets be renamed Truth, Tubman, and Douglass streets, after abolitionist leaders Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass.
“While the names Hood, Lee, and Forrest may comfort white Southerners who were dishonored by defeat in the Civil War, we can not deny that they symbolize the brutal oppression still being inflicted upon communities of color,” a letter to commissioners stated. “We call for the City of Hollywood to end official support for these symbols of slavery by renaming those streets in honor of African-American abolitionist leaders.”
Some groups suggested renaming the streets after abolitionists instead. Sylvie Suri-Perez of the Broward Green Party says her group, along with the African American Diaspora Think Tank of Hollywood and people from the Black Lives Matter movement, has been going door-to-door canvassing the neighborhood over the past week, asking residents to sign a petition to support changing the street names to Sojourner Truth, the first black woman to win a court case against a white slave owner for the return of her son; Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became a leading orator and writer; and Harriett Tubman, an escaped slave who led hundreds of others along the Underground Railroad.
Recently, activists have noticed, after months of petitioning city leaders, that in a small beach access road, Forrest Street was renamed to Forest Street, which is phonetically identical.
Gardner, who had hoped the city would nix Forrest entirely and rename the street after Harriet Tubman, is livid. She cannot understand what purpose the new name serves.
“Really? If that’s their solution, I really don’t appreciate it at all," she said. "They ought to be ashamed of themselves for doing something so stupid — as stupid as naming the street Forrest to begin with."
Strangely, the new street name does not extend into Liberia (Forrest stretches across Hollywood), the historically black neighborhood where Gardner lives.
Residents are confused in many ways. Among their questions: Why would the officials change the name of a street honoring the grand wizard only in one of its affluent beach-side neighborhoods, but keep the name intact in poor Liberia?
“Do you know why they would change [the street name] in the rich neighborhood and not the poor neighborhood?" Gardner asks. "It’s because their image needs to be upkept, an image of righteousness. A false image of righteousness. They want to appear to have clean hands."
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Forrest was also involved in one of the most disturbing moments of the war. After seizing control of Fort Pillow in spring 1864, eyewitnesses said Forrest was enraged to see black men in Union uniform, and ordered their mass slaughter, even after they had surrendered. Nearly 300 people died.
In his book An Unerring Fire: The Massacre at Fort Pillow, author Richard L. Fuchs writes, "The affair at Fort Pillow was simply an orgy of death, a mass lynching to satisfy the basest of conduct — intentional murder — for the vilest of reasons — racism and personal enmity."
Looking back, Carmella Gardner says one of the most frightening moments of her life occurred when she was a child. In the late 1970s, she attended a strange march: Dozens of men donned white robes as they promenaded across Davie Road. While Gardner sat safely on the sidewalk, she watched her parents protest a Ku Klux Klan rally — and witnessed members of the Klan verbally assault them.
The yelling became louder, and the air grew heavy with threats. It seemed as though a fight was about to break out in the streets. The young girl looked on, her heart pounding, as masked men shouted slurs, damning her mom and dad's existence.
"I didn't fully understand the history of the Klan, but just being in that atmosphere of hatred, it was fearful," says Gardner, age 46, who today is a grandmother. "I was scared for the safety of everyone. It was an overwhelming experience."
Gardner has lived her whole life within blocks of the KKK rally, in Hollywood, one of the most unassuming cities in glitzy South Florida. The racist parades have ended in Broward, but among the Diamond City's quaint tree-lined streets, many bearing the names of great American heroes, lies one christened after "the Devil" himself.