To the uninitiated, the cultural resonance of a street or road name may not be immediately apparent. But to many people who live, work, and socialize on those streets, those designations often carry meaning and memory that stretch back to a time before they were born.
In 2017 Houston’s city council voted to rename Dowling St., the main artery of the city’s Third Ward, its historic Black Community (George Floyd grew up there).
The street had been named after Dick Dowling, the Confederate commander at the battle of the Sabine Pass.
It’s incredible to think that in 2017 the main street in the Third Ward was still named after a Confederate military leader, a man who received the Confederate congress “Southern Cross of Honor” and “Confederate Medal of Honor.”
The new name of the street, as of four years ago, is Emancipation Ave. The name was inspired by the fact that the street “serves as the front door to Emancipation Park,” the historic block of greenery where some of the earliest Juneteenth celebrations were held. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the urban planners who named the street Dowling did so because it was connected to Emancipation Park. For at least three generations of Third Ward residents, the street was a reminder of the legacy of racist violence that terrorized and subjugated their ancestors.
My wife Tracie grew up in Orange, Texas, not far from the Sabine Pass, where two of the Civil War’s major battles were fought.
Just a few blocks away from the street where she lived until going away to college and where her parents still live, there is still a street named Dowling.
Back in 2013, when an Orange resident named Granvel Block decided he would build a neo-Confederate monument, he purchased land along Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. The cultural resonance of the street name surely was not lost on him.
To understand just how insidious his intentions were, see this flier he distributed during his fundraising campaign.
In 2017, he and his fellow Sons of Confederate Veterans (a neo-Confederate group of re-enactors and cosplay enthusiasts), completed construction of the monument. That’s when Tracie and I began protesting and working to raise an MLK billboard that overlooks the site.
Thanks to the support and solidarity of donors, our recent GoFundMe campaign has raised enough money to post the billboard in time for MLK Day 2022. And it will remain in place throughout February, Black History Month.
There will be no organized protest this year. But Tracie and I will be out there on the morning of January 17 with our signs. DM me if you’d like to join us (socially distanced).
We can’t thank our donors enough. Even everyone who merely clicked and shared has helped to raise awareness of the Sons of Confederate Veterans efforts to remind residents of their presence through the conspicuous display of neo-Confederate (not historical) paraphernalia. Even everyone who merely clicked and shared has helped to remind people that Monday, January 17, 2022 is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and that February is Black History Month.
We realize that we may never get the Sons to repurpose the site. But sometimes the battles you know you will lose are the most important ones to wage.
Thank you for your generosity, support, and solidarity.