A month after calling for a name change of Robert E. Lee Road, City Council Member Ann Kitchen has proposed a replacement name: Azie Taylor Morton.
Morton, who died in 2003, moved to Austin as a teenager in the 1940s and later became the first and only African American to serve as U.S. treasurer. Originally from Dale, near Lockhart, she came here to attend what was then the Texas Blind, Deaf and Orphan School, which sponsored black children, because no schools in her hometown did, Kitchen said in a news release.
Morton later graduated cum laude from Huston-Tillotson College, worked for the Texas AFL-CIO and became known as a local civil rights activist. She was known for often swimming in Barton Springs Pool in defiance of the segregationist policies of the time.
After serving as treasurer under President Jimmy Carter, Morton returned to Austin, worked extensively with Huston-Tillotson and served on the Austin Housing Authority board.
“The City should consider honoring a strong woman with roots in our local community, who dedicated her life to civil service,” Kitchen said in the news release. “Changing this street name is an important step for healing our community, given the injustices of the past.”
Kitchen filed the application for a name change Wednesday with the Austin Transportation Department, she said. That will begin a multi-month process of studying a potential road name change, including its impact on residents and public safety.
Robert E. Lee Road runs alongside Zilker Park, in Kitchen’s South Austin district. Council Member Leslie Pool has proposed renaming Jeff Davis Avenue, in Brentwood, in her district. Their push for the renamings came after a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. last month colored conversations regarding Confederate memorials nationwide.
A similar push led the Austin school board to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary School in May 2016 after a white supremacist killed nine African-Americans during a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. That mass killing also helped prompt the University of Texas to remove a bronze statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the Main Mall. After the Charlottesville incident, UT relocated four other statues with Confederate ties.
Residents who live along Robert E. Lee Road had mixed opinions about whether they’d support a name change or consider it a hassle. Both Kitchen and Pool said they’d look for community input on names, so it’s unclear whether Kitchen’s proposal will be the final one for a new name.
Pool has suggested renaming Jeff Davis Avenue for abolitionist Sojourner Truth and Robert E. Lee Road for William DeWayne Jones, a park police officer shot and killed near Zilker Park in 2000. Others have suggested Robert E. Lee Road be named for Charles Umlauf, namesake of the sculpture garden that is on the road, or for Robert Plant, the former Austin resident who fronted Led Zeppelin.
But the application process doesn’t allow for consideration of different names, so Azie Taylor Morton will be the only one on the table for Robert E. Lee Road, transportation spokeswoman Marissa Monroy said. A request for a different name would have to be submitted as a separate application, beginning a separate multi-month review process.