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Petition asks to rename two Fairfield streets commemorating Confederate generals

Posted at 4:42 PM, Nov 25, 2020

FAIRFIELD, Ohio — The city of Fairfield is seeing renewed efforts to rename two of its streets that commemorate two generals who led Confederate troops during the Civil War.

"I think it misrepresents Ohio and our history and what we stand for as a people," said University of Cincinnati student Ethan Maxwell, who is leading the efforts to compel city officials to rename two streets: Robert E. Lee Drive and Stonewall Lane.

"I figure if my ancestors fought against the confederacy in arms, I can make a petition online," Maxwell said, referring to a petition he launched to gather signatures in support of his proposal.

"Those generals, most of them didn't even fight a war near our area," he said. Ohio was aligned with the Union during the war, sitting just north of border state Kentucky.

Maxwell's recent push isn't the first effort to change the street names. In June, some residents made the request in the aftermath of George Floyd's death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, amid calls for social justice.

But some residents -- particularly those already living on those streets -- have pushed back.

Paul Hesse lives on Stonewall Lane, and he spoke at a June 25 hearing on the subject.

"I've owned the house for 27 years," he said, adding that it would create new costs for him if the street name changed. "For instance, I have to change bank accounts, wills, trusts, deeds. All these things -- it doesn't just cost me money, it costs me a great deal of time."

At the same meeting, Mayor Steve Miller noted the city doesn't have a policy on how to change street names. He said the city needs to develop that first.

"Council can't just wave a magic wand and do this. It's going to have to be more resident-driven," he said.

WCPO requested comment from Miller Wednesday, but he wasn't immediately available. The standing of that street-name-changing policy remained unclear Wednesday afternoon.

"I want them to really consider how they represent their community, what messages they send," Maxwell said. "Although some people might argue slavery wasn't why the south seceded, and they'll say, 'States' rights,' well, states' rights to what?"

Maxwell is also petitioning Miami Township with similar requests regarding three of its street names. Township Administrator Jeff Wright told WCPO Wednesday afternoon he has not received any direct communication from Maxwell about the petition, but he added that the county could initiate a name-change on its own or if residents petitioned for one.