Charlotte Considers Re-Naming Streets Tied To White Supremacy, Slave-Owners & Confederacy

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – William Phifer owned approximately 28 enslaved people. He was one of the two largest slave owners in Charlotte. Today, Phifer Street in Uptown is named for him.

Charles Aycock served as North Carolina’s 50th governor. He is also remembered as the primary architect of the state’s white supremacy movement. Aycock Lane, just south of Dilworth, is likely named for him.

Cameron Morrison served as North Carolina’s 55th governor. He was also a leader in a white supremacy campaign that worked to suppress and terrorize Black voters in the late 1890s. Morrison Boulevard and Governor Morrison Street in SouthPark are named for him.

Those are just three history excerpts provided by the City of Charlotte’s Legacy Commission. The commission recommends those three streets, and six others: Jefferson Davis Street, W. Hill Street, Stonewall Street, Jackson Avenue, Barringer Drive and Zebulon Avenue, be renamed.

“We really studied our history,” says Commission Chair Emily Zimmern. Zimmern, who was the executive director and president of the Levine Museum of the New South for 20 years, acknowledges that while it’s most important to change policies and systems to deliver equity, “Symbols do matter.” She continues, “If you’re an African American living on a street that is named for a Confederate leader who basically fought to uphold the institution of slavery, that’s hurtful. And that’s why we’re doing it.”

“I really had no interest or concern about what streets were named,” says Levester Flowers, before his work on the Legacy Commission. Flowers, a retired Bank of America mortgage loan officer, tells WCCB now, he’s proud of the work of the commission.

He hopes this conversation leads to an increased focus on broader issues. “If you look at the pandemic we’ve been going through, inequity when it deals with health care, jobs, schools. That type of thing,” he says.

“To me, I never gave any thought to them to a large degree. And I think that’s part of the inclusivity process. An opportunity to talk with people and see how they feel about things, or how it effects them. And I think that’s how we move forward,” says commission member Mike Sullivan. Sullivan is a commercial real estate broker, and also an adjunct history instructor.

When people say moving monuments or changing names is “erasing history,” this is his reply: “You’re confusing history with, in some way, commemorating parts of that. That history happened, yes. But commemoration, when you have a road after someone or put a statue up, it’s to commemorate something that they did.”

The Legacy Commission will present its 16-page report to City Council and the Mayor on Monday. Council will then decide whether to move forward with the proposed street name changes, and what to name them instead. And they want your feedback. To take the Legacy Commission’s online survey, click here.