By Steve Harrison and Jim Morrill, The Charlotte Observer
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said Wednesday she supports renaming uptown’s Stonewall Street, which is named for Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
But one challenger said Roberts “celebrated” the Confederacy in 2006 when, as a Mecklenburg County commissioner, she voted for a proclamation declaring Confederate History Week.
Their sparring came amid a national debate over monuments and other memorials to the cause of the Confederacy, and two weeks after violence in Charlottesville, Va. There, white supremacists and neo-Nazis clashed with protesters over the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“I absolutely support renaming Stonewall Street,” Roberts said in a statement after discussing the issue at an NAACP forum Tuesday. “As I’ve said for years, Confederate monuments belong in museums, not in places of public prominence. We should evaluate the names we are making prominent in our public square, and this issue is worthy of council discussion.”
One of her opponents in the Democratic primary, state Sen. Joel Ford, said he would also be open to changing the street’s name.
But he criticized Roberts for a 2006 vote she took as a Mecklenburg commissioner for a proclamation backing Confederate History Week. Ford said Roberts was “celebrating” the Confederacy.
“We should have an orderly removal process, but in doing so we should not forget the history of the Confederacy,” Ford said. “But we should not celebrate the Confederacy the way that the mayor signed off on the resolution as a county commissioner.”
Roberts said she was not celebrating the Confederacy a decade ago.
In May 2006, commissioners debated whether to support Republican Commissioner Jim Puckett’s proclamation for Confederate History Week.
Dumont Clarke, a Democrat, suggested the proclamation be renamed Civil War History Week. Roberts supported that effort, but Clarke’s motion failed.
Roberts then voted with a bipartisan majority to support Confederate History Week. The majority included Puckett and then-Commissioner Wilhelmenia Rembert, a black Democrat.
Three Democrats, including two of three African-American commissioners, voted against it.
In an interview, Roberts called Ford’s contention inaccurate.
“I voted to change the wording to Civil War History Week at first,” she said. “But I agreed with (Rembert’s statement) that this is our history, and we need to reflect what we can learn from it, the good and the bad.”
Roberts added: “It’s about history. I was supporting Wilhelmenia Rembert.”
The other prominent Democratic mayoral candidate, Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles, couldn’t be reached for comment.
This isn’t the first time renaming Stonewall Street has been debated. There also have been questions about whether the street is named for the Confederate general or someone else.
In January 2006, City Council considered changing the name of Stonewall Street to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
At the time, historian Dan Morrill said he had found an 1855 map with the street’s name on it. If that was true, that would indicate the street was named for someone or something else, because the general hadn’t yet been nicknamed “Stonewall.”
But Valerie Burnie, a librarian in the local history section of the public library, said at the time that that map was a copy. She said the street names could have been added to the map later.
“Frequently, when old maps were copied for modern people looking at them, they added the names of the streets as they were later,” Burnie said in an Observer article from 2006. “I’m not saying those street names were definitely added later, but they could have been.”
Burnie said in an interview Wednesday that she has since located minutes from a meeting of city aldermen in the late 1860s in which they approved naming the street for the general.
Ford said he would support changing the name of Stonewall Street after a deliberative process.
“We need to have an orderly process to look into renaming Stonewall Street,” he said, “while taking into consideration the number of business that would be financially impacted by that name change.”
The issue of Confederate memorials has been moot in Charlotte because of a 2015 state law that prohibited cities and towns from removing, relocating or altering monuments, memorials, plaques and other markers that are on public property without permission from the N.C. Historical Commission.
Since the late 1970s, the city of Charlotte had a small Confederate monument on the lawn of old City Hall. But after the monument was vandalized two years ago, former City Manager Ron Carlee moved it for cleaning and never returned it.
Mecklenburg County has installed plexiglass to protect a Confederate monument near Memorial Stadium in Elizabeth.
Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs