The Not-So-Lost Cause:Atlanta Votes to Honor Confederate Hero
By CB Hackworth
By CB Hackworth
Note: The author spoke in favor of renaming Harris Street to honor John Portman.
Think it's easy to run a city? That at least some of Atlanta's elected officials are, well, a little out of touch? That perhaps you, or even an average sixth grader, could do a better job at City Hall?
Take this simple test.
You're a member of the Atlanta City Council and you're faced with two choices:
1. Honor of one of our most deserving native sons -- a brilliant architect and developer whose dedication to Atlanta is one of the primary reasons it has become the South's economic hub and an international tourist destination -- by renaming the downtown street on and around which he has constructed 28 major buildings in the last 40 years or so.
2. Capitulate to those who want the street to remain named for a Confederate slave owner and secessionist who actually voted Georgia leave the United States, and who was responsible, at least in part, for Civil War atrocities including the premeditated mass murder of black Union soldiers after ceasefire on the battlefield.
Yes, it's a tough one. That's why this is called a "test." Pretend you've been elected to make these difficult choices -- much in the same way real council members pretend such things.
Bear in mind, renaming the street John Portman Boulevard was a concept with near universal support from the city's business community, including endorsements from the Greater Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and Central Atlanta Progress -- as well as individuals like former Mayor Andrew Young, who had sharp words on the subject this week:
Ok, pencils down.
Without even bothering to grade your papers, we're just going to assume that a cheating scandal wasn't necessary for most of you to come up with the correct answer.
What happened in real life?
Well, on Monday, the actual council went with a third opition -- one seemingly guaranteed to please almost no one. They voted for both.
Rather than simply change the name of Harris Street to John Portman Boulevard, they changed it to John Portman Boulevard at Historic Harris Street.
This is a solution inspired more by Victor von Frankenstein than Solomon, or even Starfleet cadet James T. Kirk.
By grafting Portman's good name onto that of John L. Harris, an Old South relic better forgotten than honored anew, the council has -- perhaps even intentionally -- decided to slap one of its leading citizens in the face rather than give him the recognition he deserves.
Coverage on WXIA-TV 11Alive was headlined, "Debate over changing street name exposes secrets, scars."
As approved by the Council on Monday, plans even call for the erection of new historic markers recognizing Harris.
Even with the "compromise," the measure to rename Harris Street for Portman passed by a very thin margin of only 8-6.
Voting in favor were Michael Julian Bond, Keisha Lance Bottoms, C.T. Martin, Joyce Sheperd, Aaron Watson, H. Lamar Willis, Cleta Winslow and Ivory Young, Jr.
Opposed the renaming the street for Portman was council member Kwanza Hall, who represents the downtown district in which it is located. He was joined by all three council members from Buckhead -- Yolanda Andrean, Howard Shook and Felicia Moore -- as well as Natalyln Archibong and Alex Wan.
Council member Carla Smith was conspicuously absent from the meeting. Her vocal opposition to renaming the street prompted City Council President Caesar Mitchell to propose John Portman Boulevard at Historic Harris Street as a compromise.