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Charlottesville panel begins deliberations on honorary street policy
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Charlottesville panel begins deliberations on honorary street policy

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Honorary street names

DAILY PROGRESS FILE

Among the 13 proposals for honorary street names received by Charlottesville’s City Council was one for Second Street Northeast between East High and East Main streets to honor Gregory Swanson. After a legal battle, Swanson became the first African American admitted to an all-white college or university in the former Confederacy, in his case, the University of Virginia’s law school, according to the proposal.

A Charlottesville committee wants to take a closer look at policy before making recommendations on proposed honorary street names.

The Historic Resources Committee had a preliminary discussion on the naming policy during its virtual meeting Friday.

The City Council sent 11 requests for the designations to the committee last month for review and recommendations. The council will make a final determination on the requests.

Honorary street names do not change the name of the street. Rather, a brown sign with the honorary designation is placed near the sign with the actual street name.In August, the council voted to suspend its policy and accept proposals for new names through the end of the month.

At the time, councilors had been considering an honorary street name downtown to recognize the Black Lives Matter movement.

Afterward, the city received 13 applications. Two of those have been approved and the rest were sent to the committee.

The committee appeared willing to send requests for University of Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett and Charlottesville’s sister city of Poggio a Caiano, Italy, back to the council. Committee members felt the requests didn’t fall under the panel’s purview, but took no vote on returning them to the council.

Committee member Sally Duncan said it makes sense for the honorary street naming policy to be reviewed before requests are considered.

Committee member Dede Smith said the policy doesn’t need much work, pointing to small shortcomings such as the lack of a filing deadline and lack of standardization of the length of the designation.

“All those questions, they’re not that hard, but they should at least be answered,” she said.

Duncan reviewed policies in some other cities that had limitations on submissions, distance and more parameters for the honoree.

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Although it didn’t conduct a full assessment, the committee briefly discussed some of the proposals.

Committee member Phil Varner said one proposal should be selected between two that have been proposed for the Fourth Street area.

Charles Alexander, known in his educational work with children as Mr. Alex-Zan, submitted an application originally seeking to designate Fourth Street Northwest between West Main Street and Preston Avenue as Black History Pathway. It was revised to be named Wyatt Johnson Way (Black History Pathway).

Activist Tanesha Hudson sent in an application to mark Fourth Street between Preston Avenue and Main Street as Vinegar Hill Way to honor those who were displaced when the city razed the predominately African American neighborhood in the 1960s.

Some committee members supported Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Hingeley’s request to designate naming Second Street Northeast between East High and East Main streets in honor of Gregory Swanson.

Swanson applied to UVa’s law school in 1949 and, although the faculty unanimously voted to admit him, the Board of Visitors rejected his application because he was Black.

The U.S. District Court ruled on Sept. 5, 1950, that UVa violated the 14th Amendment in rejecting Swanson’s application and ordered the school to admit him.

The federal courtroom where the case was argued was in what is now the downtown library across Second Street from Market Street Park.

Varner raised concerns similar to Mayor Nikuyah Walker that Swanson was not from the Charlottesville area and the library could be a more appropriate place to honor him. Although the case was important for civil rights, Varner pointed out Swanson was only “one of the many players.”

The library contains a plaque honoring Swanson and his case.

Varner said the committee needs to have a finalized policy, review process and method of community engagement ready before considering the requests.

“I think this could be seen as just kicking the can down the road, but this is an important thing and the conversations we have around memorializing these people are important work,” he said.

The committee is planning a larger discussion of the policy and requests at its November meeting.

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City hall reporter

Nolan Stout is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7274, nstout@dailyprogress.com, or @nstoutDP on Twitter and Facebook.

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