Austin City Council Votes To Rename Two Streets Named For Confederate Figures

Apr 25, 2018

This post has been updated.

The Austin City Council voted unanimously Thursday to rename two streets that had been named for Confederate figures.

Robert E. Lee Road will become Azie Morton Road, after the Austin resident and first African-American U.S. treasurer. Jeff Davis Avenue will be renamed for William Holland, who was born into slavery and became a Travis County commissioner in the late 19th century. He was integral in establishing a school in Austin for disabled children of color.

City staff had mailed feedback forms to property owners on and near the streets. The majority of residents disapproved of the name changes, but few of these people showed up to testify in front of City Council on Thursday. Most people said they were in favor of the name changes.  

“My daughter’s approaching the age where she will ask, ‘Who’s our street named after?’" Rachel Copperman, who lives in Jeff Davis Avenue, told Council members before the vote. "I want to be able to say proudly, ‘William Holland started a school for children who could not hear or see so they could have the same opportunities as you.’” I don’t want to have to say, ‘Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederacy, composed of a set of U.S. states that decided they did not want to be a part of our country anymore because they wanted to keep enslaving people.’”

Before the vote, Council member Ann Kitchen said that as a young woman,Morton took part in protests at the then-segregated Barton Springs Pool. 

“She was instrumental, as were others, in helping ... open [the pool] up to everyone in Austin," Kitchen said, "and that’s a very special connection, I think, to this particular road.”

Azie Morton Road runs alongside Zilker Park, just south of Barton Springs Pool, and intersects with Barton Springs Road.

The city estimates it will cost $2,900 to change the two street names. 

The original post follows.

Nine months after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., reignited the conversation over memorials to Confederate figures, Austin City Council Members will vote on giving Robert E. Lee Road and Jeff Davis Avenue new names.

Lee was commander of the Confederate Army. Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederacy. (Some argue the street may not actually be named for him.)

“Changing this street name is an important step for healing our community, given the injustices of the past,” Council Member Ann Kitchen wrote in a press release last year.

Robert E. Lee Road, which snakes through the east side of Zilker Park past the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum and the south entrance of Barton Springs Pool, could become Azie Taylor Morton Road.

Credit Office of the U.S. Treasurer

Morton, who died in 2003, was the first African-American to serve as U.S. Treasurer. After graduating from Huston-Tillotson University in 1956, Morton worked for the Texas AFL-CIO and was part of John F. Kennedy’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. She was treasurer under President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981.

Friends described her as generous – to everyone.

“When you talked to Azie, you got the feeling that you were the most important person in the world to Azie at that time,” said Terry Smith, an administrator for Huston-Tillotson University until his retirement last year.

After her time in Washington, D.C., Morton returned to Austin. She served on the board for the Austin Housing Authority and opened a bookstore at Huston-Tillotson.

Smith said she was also a competitive card player; bid whist, which is similar to bridge, was her game.

“Azie did not like to lose,” Smith said. “And she was good at it."

Morton was born in 1936 in Dale, Texas, about 45 minutes southeast of Austin. Her eldest daughter, Virgie Morton, said she grew up poor and life was not easy.

“It was a struggle,” Morton said. “She worked in the cotton fields. She put herself through school. She wanted more.”

When asked what her mother would say about having a street named for her, Morton said her mother was humble.

“She would probably say, 'I don’t deserve it,'” she said.

Council members will also vote on changing the name of Jeff Davis Avenue to Will Holland Avenue, for a man who served in the Texas House of Representatives and the Travis County Commissioners Court, according to a biography written by the city.

Credit State Preservation Board

Holland was born into slavery in Marshall, Texas, in the 1840s. He attended Oberlin College in Ohio before returning to Travis County to teach in public schools. He served as the first superintendent for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Institute for Colored Youth, which later became the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, opening it in 1887. Holland died in 1907.

By its own rules, the City of Austin is required to poll property owners in the area about the name change. The city mailed feedback forms to more than 500 people living on or near the streets. According to city documents, 123 property owners responded. The majority were opposed to the changes. Some said it would be inconvenient; others said it would erase history. Others wrote they simply didn’t like the proposed new names.

City Council members will have the final say. Public hearings for both street name changes are scheduled for after 4 p.m. Thursday.

Trey Shaar contributed to this report.