Residents push for new street names in Port Townsend

Posted 7/2/20

Former Port Townsend councilman Robert Gray is pressing the city council to change the name of one of the city’s streets in recognition of Black Lives Matter.

Gray, a two-term councilman who …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

Residents push for new street names in Port Townsend

Posted

Former Port Townsend councilman Robert Gray is pressing the city council to change the name of one of the city’s streets in recognition of Black Lives Matter.

Gray, a two-term councilman who didn’t run for reelection in 2019, would like to see Taylor Street renamed.

“We have a tremendous amount of streets named after presidents,” Gray said. “A lot of them owned slaves, among other things.”

Starting earlier this month — after demonstrations erupted in cities across the country following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota — Gray started asking city leaders during the public comment periods of council meetings to consider his street-renaming idea.

“It is wonderful that the young members of our community are marching and protesting in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. What else can the city do to recognize that Black Lives Matter?

We have at least five, and maybe even seven major streets in Port Townsend that were probably named after some of the 12 ex-presidents who owned slaves,” Gray noted during the council’s first meeting this month.

The list includes the street in front of City Hall: Madison.

“The city council should act to change some of the names of these streets to recognize the accomplishments of Black Americans,” Gray told the council. “There are many possibilities for the name changes including Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Jesse Owens, Rosa Parks, Billie Holliday, Bob Marley, and, of course, our first Black President Barack Obama.”

Gray has since again pressed the idea for removing the name of Taylor, the country’s 12th president, from Port Townsend street signs.

In written comments to the council, Gray noted not a single street in Jefferson County had been named for Martin Luther King, while there are streets named for 14 of the first 15 presidents. 

“And some, in my opinion, did little to be honored by having a street named after them,” Gray wrote. “Take Zachary Taylor for example. Prior to serving as president for about 16 months when he died in office, Taylor was a slave owner and Indian hunter. You can only image how badly African-American slaves and Indigenous peoples were treated by Taylor. Historians say that he won the presidency because of his victories in the Mexican American war.”

Renaming Taylor Street to King Street to honor the civil rights icon would be a small step, Gray said, to recognize Black Lives Matter “and to support our young protestors in their cause.”

He also suggested placing a permanent sign with King’s portrait on the renamed street with the text of his “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Port Townsend is after all, known as the City of Dreams,” Gray added.

Others in Port Townsend are also supportive of changing the names of certain streets.

Jim Todd, at a recent council meeting, asked that the name of Jackson Street should be changed.

“Andrew Jackson was responsible for the Trail of Tears which refers to the forced removal of the indigenous Cherokee nation from their homeland in the southern Alleghenies to Oklahoma,” Todd said of the seventh president.

“Since there is a current national movement to remove monuments honoring flagrant violators of human rights (e.g., removal of the Columbus statue in St. Paul, Minnesota by a local indigenous tribe in June 2020), it is time to change the name of Jackson Street in Port Townsend to one that reflects the culture of our neighboring indigenous tribes,” Todd added.

The idea of having a street named after King drew speedy support at a recent council meeting from Councilwoman Pamela Adams and Councilwoman Monica MickHager.

“I love the idea of King, and doing something on Taylor Street with it,” MickHager said.

Comments

1 comment on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment
Linda Okazaki

Taylor Street is one street that carries so much historical record for businesses, commemorated annual events and even Public Art. Changing the name to King impacts all those businesses that then must redesign their business logos, stationary and signage which is no small expense when all are already financially challenged from this pandemic and closures.

I endorse renaming a street to honor Martin Luther King or other notable leaders but careful consideration is a good process to not impact longtime business owners or the historical significance of visual references of buildings, streets & significant landmark sculpture over 169 years of being part of our town.

Linda Okazaki

Thursday, July 9, 2020