Renaming Augusta’s John C. Calhoun Expressway heads to the full commission after an effort by two city commissioners to change it to “Veterans Highway” failed to pass Tuesday.
Bringing the name issue to the commission last week for a third time, Commissioner Bill Fennoy presented it as a request to change the road to the “Trump-Calhoun Expressway,” sparking the ire of supporters of President Trump and those opposed to a name change, and disbelief among many others.
Fennoy said before Tuesday’s meeting the agenda item pointed out parallels between Calhoun, the 19th century South Carolina statesman whose defense of slavery led the South’s effort to separate from the United States, and the 45th president. He said the pair would desire each other as running mates if Calhoun was still alive.
“It’s an obvious comparison. Trump used his position, he said we don’t want people from Africa and Haiti to come to this country, that they should come from Norway, that’s lily-white,” Fennoy said.
The vote followed statements from Augusta University associate history professor John Hayes, read into the record by City Clerk Lena Bonner, that Augusta need not welcome visitors on the main thoroughfare with a relic from the old south.
“To anyone coming into downtown from Washington Road, the John C. Calhoun commemoration says welcome to the old South, the South of slavery and secession,” Hayes wrote.
“To counter abolitionists who said unequivocally that slavery was an inherently a cruel and unjust system,” Calhoun’s response was that “the South’s slavery was an inherent good, because it puts a superior race and an inferior race in proper relation to each other,” he said.
Fennoy followed with an emotional speech continuing the comparison of Trump with Calhoun.
“President Trump has used his position as president of the United States to endorse racism,” and “felt that there were good Nazis” and “good Klansmen in Charlottesville, Va.,” Fennoy said.
The violent protests in Charlottesville started over an effort to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Other cities nationwide are also seeing efforts to remove names and symbols of slavery and segregation from public spaces.
Fennoy mentioned the growing effort in Savannah to replace the name of staunch segregationist Herman Talmadge with that of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, on a prominent bridge.
The speech persuaded at least one commissioner, Ben Hasan, who moved to rename the road Veterans Highway. But another, Commissioner Marion Williams, questioned whether a name change will change how people are.
“People still think that you ought to be on the other side of the railroad tracks,” Williams said. “Changing the name isn’t going to help me one bit if the hearts of men don’t change.”
Hasan’s motion had two supporting votes – from himself and Fennoy – and two opposed, from commissioners Grady Smith and Sean Frantom, so the item moves to the full commission next week without a recommendation. Williams was present, but doesn’t serve on the Engineering Services committee that heard the item.