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Dead Or Alive? Committee Weighs Renaming Streets, Monuments

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A Memphis City Council committee meeting Thursday was filled with banter about how streets and/or monuments in Memphis should be renamed.

The discussion was sparked by a decision to rename Memphis’ Confederate parks in 2017. Earlier this year the city approved renaming a portion of Poplar Avenue to Black Lives Matter Avenue. And let’s not forget the attempt to change Main Street to Mane Street!

This stretch of Poplar Avenue was renamed Black Lives Matter Avenue earlier this year.
  • This stretch of Poplar Avenue was renamed Black Lives Matter Avenue earlier this year.

This week, the council committee debated whether or not the renaming should include inspiring citizens who are alive. Currently the policy is that no statue or street can be named in honor of a citizen unless they are deceased. 


One committee member, Joshua Whitehead, pointed out that “E.H. Crump Boulevard, Elvis Presley Boulevard, and Danny Thomas Boulevard are all streets that have been named while the recipient was living. Changing the policy now would go against an already established precedent,” he said. But in 2018, the Shelby County Criminal Justice Complex (known informally by its address at 201 Poplar) was renamed for longtime (and still-living) county commissioner Walter Bailey Jr. 

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Nonetheless, there was pushback. A caller, Randall Tatum, cautioned the council on naming figures who are alive because there could be potential risk in that person having negative happenings during the duration of their life. This is true of former Memphis Mayor E. H. Crump, who was said to have run the city like a “big city boss with ballot manipulation, patronage to friend and loads of red tape to throw off his opponents.” Elvis was an international super star when he was named sooo … there’s that.


All in all, it was hard to tell if the council committee was emphatically for or against this measure. Members noted that regardless of their final decision, each neighborhood can uphold a member of their community that they admire. The argument of cultural heritage was discussed in earnest. For now, the council is still deliberating on the parameters of whether this statute will stand, as well as who will head up various sub-committees that will tackle renaming the commission.

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