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Two Confederate street names dropped

Friday, April 27, 2018 by Jo Clifton

After an outpouring of commentary from the community – most of it positive – Council voted unanimously on Thursday to rename two city streets after prominent African-American historical figures and shed the previous names, Robert E. Lee and Jeff Davis.

Robert E. Lee Road, which runs along the east side of Zilker Park, will now be called Azie Taylor Morton Road after the only African-American to ever serve as treasurer of the United States.

Morton, who was born in Dale, Texas, in 1936, attended high school at what was called the Texas Blind, Deaf and Orphan School in Austin because there was no high school in her hometown for African-Americans.

District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen said it seemed particularly appropriate to name the road after Morton because she swam at Barton Springs Pool in defiance of segregationist laws of her time.

Before her extensive career in Washington, D.C., Morton worked in Austin for the Texas AFL-CIO and as an educator. She also worked for President John F. Kennedy’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and served on the President’s Committee on Equal Opportunity in Housing.

Jeff Davis Avenue, which runs between Burnet Road and Koenig Lane in District 7, will now be called William Holland Avenue after a man who was born into slavery in Marshall, Texas, in the 1840s but fought in the Union Army and eventually returned to Texas to serve in several important positions.

Holland was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1875, where he authored legislation establishing Prairie View A&M University. He was also the first African-American to be elected to serve in the Travis County Commissioners Court. After his tenure there, he was instrumental in establishing the Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institute for Colored Youth, where he served as the school’s first superintendent. This institution was one of the predecessors of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

One of the community members who came forward to support the renaming of Jeff Davis Avenue was Martha Chang, who said she has lived there for more than 10 years. “Knowing that my street was named during the Jim Crow era specifically to intimidate people of color makes me ashamed of where I live,” she told Council.

Kit Randall and Larry O’Connor told Council that they live on Jeff Davis Avenue and were unhappy about the change. Both said a majority of the people living on the street were opposed to the change, so they could not understand why their Council member, Leslie Pool, was supporting it.

However, they were certainly in the minority in the Council chambers with about two dozen people telling Council they favored the name change for both streets.

Virgie Morton, the oldest daughter of Azie Taylor Morton, thanked Council for renaming the street, saying of her mother, “Her hard work, contributions and service to the fabric of America, dedication and vision, was and still remains a part of the American dream. The renaming of the street – and certainly this name being very special to our family, our community, our city, our state and our nation – this is an historic moment and we are all part of this American story. … As the struggle continues, we will forever forge ahead to form a more perfect union, where everyone is welcome and appreciated for their contributions.”

Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion and former Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole were also among those who spoke about the significance of the name change to themselves personally and to Austin’s African-American community.

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