Planning favors name change

Published 8:11 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2020

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The movement toward changing two controversial road names in Southampton County got a boost when the Planning Commission on Aug. 13 recommended 5-3 that the Board of Supervisors work toward modifying an ordinance that could permit such a change.

At issue are Blackhead Signpost Road and Hanging Tree Road, names that several people have been saying are offensive in their denotation and connotation respectively. For example, at the supervisors’ meeting in July, Ricky Blunt Sr. and Michelle Covington each made their case.

Blunt, who said he’s a representative of the Citizens for Change group, said, “In our opinion the aforementioned road names are demeaning, derogatory and offensive to a large number of residents in this county, as well as, to many visitors of the county.

Our research on Blackhead Sign Post Road reveals that this road was named after the head of an enslaved black man was placed on a stake after he was caught and beheaded because he was thought to have participated in Nat Turner’s slave rebellion. This hideous act was done as a deterrent to other enslaved individuals that would consider repeating Turner’s actions.

Covington echoed Blunt’s further remark that there’s no evidence that executions actually took place on Hanging Tree Road, yet, “… the current name of this street unnecessarily evokes the connotation of the dark and shameful history of America’s South, of the thousands of Blacks who were unjustifiably lynched for purposes of entertainment and intimidation. … To eliminate this mistaken association of our county with this barbarism, the name should be changed to something that more accurately represents the story circulating about low hanging tree limbs. Might I suggest Low Branch or Low Bough Road or something similar?”

Ultimately, the board put the matter in the commission’s hands for recommendation or disapproval.

The three who voted against recommendation were chairman Michael Drake, William “Bill” Day and J. Michael Mann. They could not be reached for comment. Keith Tennessee was absent, and the five who voted to recommend were board liaison Dr. Alan Edwards, vice chairman John “Jack” Randall, Douglas Chesson, Tammie Connolly and at-large member Lynette Allston.

Allston told the newspaper there was general discussion that “it’s time to correct some of the things that are offensive and that naming needed to change. It appeared that the Board of Supervisors was the easiest way to get some results.”

The commissioner said she agrees the road names are offensive, added that the supervisors’ potential action “doesn’t put the burden on the petitioners or homeowners, because a fee [to advertise a hearing] involved.”

She also said there was some discussion about whether taxpayers should pay that fee.

The matter will go back the supervisors, with a public hearing this fall; a decision could be made by the December meeting.