- By Ken Herman American-Statesman Staff
Now the rename game really gets really interesting.
The city of Austin’s Equity Office has put the city’s name on a list — along with some local streets, parks and monuments — of things that might be worthy of a second thought because of for whom they’re named.
It’s right there on the list of “assets for secondary review,” including Pease Park (“Elisha M. Pease, one-time governor of Texas. Unionist, but was a slave owner”) and Barton Springs (“William Barton … slave owner, settled on Comanche land in 1830s near Barton Springs – fought Comanches”).
Here’s the rap on Stephen F. Austin: “Fought to defend slavery in spite of Mexico’s effort to ban it; believed slave labor indispensable for Texas to flourish in its production of sugar and cotton; believed that if slaves were emancipated they would turn into ‘vagabonds, a nuisance and a menace.’ Wanted slaveowners to be compensated if their slaves were emancipated.”
So maybe it’s time to strip Austin’s name from our city and a local recreation center and a street. Though I’d like to see it as an issue in the current mayoral race — especially now that CodeNext has become CodeNotGonnaHappen — it’s probably not going to happen. But there’s no sense in waiting for the last minute to compile a list of possible new names for our town.
OK, thanks for asking, I’ll get it going: South Round Rock. East West Lake Hills. Not Pfar Pfrom Pflugerville. Gentrytown. Weirdsville. Austown. Dell Valley. Trafficville. North Buda. Not Dallas. Lady Birdville. Austen, as in Jane. (And if that last one happens and we want to be politically perfect, this newspaper would become the Austen American-Statesperson.)
How long until somebody (some profiteering body) breaks out the “Keep Austin Austin” T-shirts, koozies and related merch? On a semi-related note, my favorite reader-submitted suggestion came from William Gary, riffing on the fact that there already is a Happy, Texas. “I submit simply Weird, Texas,” says Gary. Pretty good. And, as he notes, we wouldn’t have to get rid of our “Keep Austin Weird” stuff.
As long as we’re being reflective, let’s see what else around here might be ripe for renaming. A fancy downtown hotel named for a former local resident who became a president some think was a bit quick on the war trigger finger? I think not. Rename the W!
And whose bright idea was it to name what should be Main Street in honor of our evil, overreaching overlords in D.C.? Banish Congress Avenue!
Brazos Street? Oh sure. Great. Let’s have a street that shares a name with the county in which Texas A&M University is located. What wizard came up with that? (And while we’re renaming streets with dumb names, how about if we get rid of 38½ Street and any other street with half in its name. Not our finest municipal-planning moment.)
Maybe we should refuse to accept an Ohio city’s hand-me-down soccer team, unless that city changes its name from one that honors a misguided explorer whose annual holiday has been scrapped by the Austin City Council in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day.
(Stray fact: Austin is the nation’s second-most populous state capital city, behind Phoenix and just ahead of that Ohio city whose soccer team we might steal.)
Maybe Austin should revert to being Waterloo, the name it had prior to Austin. Waterloo, however, might be a troubling trigger for local Napoleon fans still recovering from the late French emperor’s waterloo at Waterloo. Would Waterloo residents be known as Waterloons? And what of the potential internecine battle over whether Abba’s insipid “Waterloo” would have to be the official city song? We should check with Waterloo, Iowa, to see if folks there have had that important civic discussion.
Bottom line: Maybe before we figure out if we should rename Austin and some of its streets and parks, we ought to complete the task of renaming five Austin school district campuses with Confederate-related names. As my colleague Melissa Taboada recently reported, that whole effort has been pushed back and won’t happen until the 2019-20 school year.
So far, the district has more than 200 proposed new names suggested by the public. Included are good ones such as Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton and Fred Rogers (“Won’t you be my neighborhood school?”). Also suggested were Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter Middle School, Rick Perry High School and Drew Brees High School. Less likely to be picked are Ariana Grande Middle School, Leslie Cochran Middle School and Bob Lanier High School (probably the former Houston mayor, not the Hall of Fame basketball player).
The district, so far, has declined to release suggested names that don’t align with the district’s core beliefs and values, which means naming a school for Leslie Cochran, Beyoncé or Rick Perry does align with the district’s core beliefs and values. I’m guessing, if put on a local ballot, Perry would come in third in that group. (And I’m current enough on pop culture to know Beyoncé’s link to an Austin restaurant. Isn’t she married to Chez Zee?)
You might recall that the 2016 effort to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary drew suggestions including Bleeding Heart Liberal Elementary, Kim Il Sung Elementary and Schooly McSchoolerson.
It’s a good thing we’re so perfect today that we don’t give anything a name that might seem odd a few generations hence.
Hey, anybody enjoyed the Lance Armstrong Bikeway lately?