Madison’s Historical Street Names Must Be Retained

This morning my neighborhood listserv was most active over a new topic that can be summed up with this sentence from a posting.

Apparently Rutledge street is named after John Rutledge who was both a slave owner and an opponent of abolition.  I thought by naming the street after Clyde Stubblefield we can get rid of that name and salute one of Madison’s favorite people.

Readers to my blog know where I land regarding such matters. But for the purpose of this new topic among some in the neighborhood, I again put it into words.

Over the decades of reading history, one overall truth emerges.  Simply put, one cannot see the light today without the shadows of the past.

Almost every street in this area has a historical name associated with it, as such, we should encourage more awareness of the importance of the reasons they were first named.  I applaud those who are now learning about those names. Every street has a rich story.  Having said that, I do not wish to downplay or minimize any political, social, or cultural efforts now underway or pretend in some glib fashion that it will all just ‘get better’. That is not the lesson we should take from the past when looking at and understanding who these men were.

Rather, we should learn of the earnestness and applied resources it took to overcome the issues of their time, knowing the nation did it before, and we can do it now.  I wish more folks would take in and ponder the perspectives of our history. It can lead us forward. 

Though John Adams was not a slave owner he did not welcome the idea of women weighing into public politics…Abigail had words for him in letters on that score!  Do his views on women, then, mean his name should be removed, too?

It was Abigail who wrote her “Dearest” as the construction of the constitution was underway, “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”  (If you have not read the many letters between Abigail and John please consider doing so.  Remarkable.)

Removing history for the sake of today’s sense of purity does a grave disservice to the ones who lived their lives without today’s hindsight.  We get to sort and balance out the contradictions of their lives and in a sense be above it all.  But we must always understand those people were living in their moment and not having the luxury of our gained experience.  One of the great lapses in our public history education is not stepping into the shoes and lives of those long before us, and sensing what it was like to live in their time.

So, no, to the idea of changing this neighborhood’s street names.

And so it goes.