With spotlight on racial tension around U.S., several local streets still bear Confederate names

Despite Lee, Stonewall signs, Tri-State was Union
Robert E. Lee road in Tri-State? More than one
Posted at 8:00 AM, Sep 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-08 13:16:59-04

ERLANGER, Kentucky -- Laurie Murray is of two minds these days, and neither will consider changing.

On the one hand, she helps run Colonial Manor Mobile Home Park in Erlanger, Kentucky, which her family bought from the bank in 1975 when the original developer went bankrupt. Five of the six streets in the community are named after generals who served the Confederacy in the Civil War. From a practical standpoint, she doesn't want to inconvenience her 211 families by changing the names.

On the other -- the one that sees the recent controversy over the appropriateness of honoring figures who arguably defended slavery and led an armed rebellion against the United States -- she's not going there, either.

"We have no intention of changing the street names," she said. 

The current conflict stems from the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month, when white supremacists and affiliated groups marched to protest the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee, the lead general of the Confederacy. Counterprotests ensued. A car, allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr., plowed into the counterprotesters. One person died and 19 others were injured, and some believe the aftermath was inflamed by President Trump's delayed and tepid condemnation of the white supremacist-led group.

Since then, many cities have begun to either take down or relocate statues and markers of Confederate figures. There are few markers noting the Confederacy in the Tri-State, but Colonial Manor and a plat in Miami Township in Clermont County are the exceptions in terms of street names.

Not far from Milford High School, there is Jeb Stuart Drive, Stonewall Jackson Drive and Beauregard Court – all named for generals under Lee. Jo Brotherton is an executive assistant for Miami Township and said the area was developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"We just want people to know that Miami Township did not name any of these streets," Brotherton said. "This is all done by the developer. Any time somebody comes in and wants to put in a small subdivision or big subdivision, it's the developer who chooses the names."

The same story goes for Colonial Manor. Murray said when her father, mother, uncle, aunt and grandmother purchased the community off Dolwick Road, the street names -- including Robert E. Lee Drive -- were already laid out. She believes there was a property with slave quarters there before the land was developed.

That may be true, though Michele Roszmann of the Erlanger Historical Society said the only property she's aware of that once was owned by slaveholders is on Stevenson Road. She said there are a few other properties in Northern Kentucky that had slave quarters, but none of those structures exist any longer.

Records of who the developers were at both locations could not be determined. In Miami Township, one of the streets nearby is named for Revolutionary War hero Patrick Henry, while another is called Monassas Run – a seeming conflation (and typo) of the two battles of Manassas or Bull Run in Virginia. Confederate and Union troops called them two different things.

There is also a Robert E. Lee Drive and Stonewall Lane off John Gray Road in Fairfield, likewise developer-chosen. City of Fairfield spokesperson Greg Preece said a resident, who didn't leave a name or address, called the city to ask whether a street name could be changed if enough residents agreed. No other residents have contacted the city, and City Council has not discussed the issue, he said.

Stonewall Jackson Drive in Miami Township in Clermont County. General Stuart Drive and Beauregard Court are nearby. (Picture by Google Maps)

Without other evidence, the naming of the streets would seem to be part marketing, part wisp of a family connection to a given side.

The names still perhaps run counter, 152 years after the end of the war, to where the region stood while the war raged. There were pockets of support for the Confederacy -- a marker for Eli Bruce, a benefactor to the Confederacy, sits near the intersection of Beechwood Road and Dixie Highway in Northern Kentucky, and there's been a back-and-forth over a marker in Franklin, Ohio. But by and large, the Tri-State was with the Union.

"The current controversy provides a perfect example of why we need to study history and what really happened versus what people think happened," said Paul Tenkotte, professor of history and director of the Center for Public History at Northern Kentucky University. "There's this constant myth that somehow Northern Kentucky was a Confederate place. It was never a Confederate place."

Tenkotte said a planned attack on Cincinnati likely pushed a region that was already leaning toward the Union the rest of the way there.

"After the aborted siege of Cincinnati, Covington and Newport by the Confederates in late summer 1862, there was little enthusiasm for the southern cause in our region," said Tenkotte, who's also co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky. "Imagine, if you can, how rapidly support for the Confederate side would have evaporated when people's lives, families, homes and businesses were threatened."

Tenkotte sees the current atmosphere at mostly positive.

"We all can study it, debate it, formulate arguments. Everybody has that First Amendment right to do so," he said. "Violence is never, never an option in my book and most Americans' books. Settled, reasonable, understandable debates and controversies are good. That's the way we grow as a nation. That's the way we grow as a democracy."