Sunday, February 25, 2024

In Wilmington neighborhood, division over streets named after KKK grand wizard, Confederate generals

The corner of Robert E. Lee and Bedford Forest Drive. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
The corner of Robert E. Lee and Bedford Forest Drive. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON — In the Pine Valley neighborhood, there are at least 17 streets named after former generals and officers of the Confederate Army, and one named after Nathan Bedford Forrest — a former cotton plantation owner, Confederate general, and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Amid an increasingly intense cultural debate over memorials to the Confederacy that has resurfaced since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the dispute over Pine Valley’s streets has also resumed.

According to Amanda Boomershine, a Pine Valley resident and UNCW Spanish professor who first spoke up about the street names in 2015, the main arguments have taken place on the neighborhood’s Facebook and Next Door social media pages, where the vocal majority prefers to leave the street names unchanged. She said most of these voices seem to come from those who are local Wilmingtonians, speaking to others who have moved to the city from out of the state, particularly from the North.

RELATED: The Confederate monuments are down in Wilmington — for how long, we don’t know

“The main response from locals who live in the neighborhood is: [Northerners] don’t have to live here and they can move out if they don’t like the street names,” Boomershine said. “Not everyone feels that way; some say it is time for change.”

Meanwhile, others do not necessarily support the honoring of Confederate and KKK leaders, but believe the impracticality of changing the street names — which would in turn force residents to update their credit cards, drivers licenses, and other personal information — is not worth the effort. One resident, she said, has circulated among residents that it would cost roughly $1,000 for each resident to make those changes.

She estimated that at least 95% of the neighborhood are white residents.

When asked if the city would consider renaming the streets in response to the current Black Lives Matter movement that has arisen largely in response to Floyd’s death, city spokesman Dylan Lee said that City Council “has the power to do so but the city has a moratorium on street re-naming until the existing policy can be updated.”

According to Lee, the city has faced calls in the past to rename the streets.

“[B]ut no one has submitted a completed application, which requires, among other things, at least 51% of affected addresses to agree,” Lee said.

He could not answer why the streets were originally named after Confederate and KKK leaders because the neighborhood was built and the streets were named well before it was annexed into the city in 1984, according to Lee.

Some of the street names are misspelled: Bedford Forest Drive, for instance, is named after Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Boomershine said she was frequently a target of social media insults after talking to Star News in 2015, but said it was worth it to speak up on the matter. Although the vocal majority is against any changes, some residents who advocate for change have reached out to her.

Many are beginning to take on a different perspective than they had five years ago, she said, as they are beginning to emphasize more with people of color, “those descendants affected by the KKK or who were enslaved.”

Ultimately, her own address causes her a sense of frustration.

“To live on Robert E. Lee Drive, it’s sad. And it shows that the neighborhood, built when the streets were named in the fifties and sixties, were to honor and preserve the legacy of the Civil War and white supremacy,” Boomershine said. “And you can only imagine how people of color feel when they have to drive through our neighborhood, whether they are working delivery service, landscaping, or other jobs. They are forced to face reminders of how their ancestors were treated and how they continue to be treated.”

Several of the Pine Valley neighborhood street names are below:

  • Bedford Forest Drive: Nathan Bedford Forest was a cavalry leader and military strategist who oversaw the massacre of over 300 black soldiers at Fort Pillow in Tennessee and, from 1867 to 1869, led the Ku Klux Klan as its first Grand Wizard.
  • Robert E Lee Drive: Robert E. Lee was the commander of the Confederate States Army during the Civil War.
  • Stonewall Jackson Drive: Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson is one of the more famous former generals of the Confederate States Army, known for his talents as a tactical commander.
  • Beauregard Drive: Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard has been called the first prominent general of the Confederate States Army. After his military career, he advocated for black civil rights and was a railroad executive.
  • Bragg Drive: Braxton Bragg was a Confederate Army general, who was criticized by his army peers for a poor temper and combative personality. He resigned as commander of the Confederate Army of Mississippi after it was defeated at Chattanooga in 1863.
  • Longstreet Drive: James Longstreet was a powerful Confederate general and a principal subordinate to General Lee, who called him his “Old War Horse.”
  • Semmes Drive: Raphael Semmes was a captain of the cruiser CSS Alabama, which took down 65 enemy ships.

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