Politics & Government

148-year-old handwritten notes show Confederate origins of Stonewall St. – and others

Hill Street was one of four streets renamed by Charlotte aldermen in 1869, four years after the Civil War ended.
Hill Street was one of four streets renamed by Charlotte aldermen in 1869, four years after the Civil War ended. sharrison@charlotteobserver.com

If Charlotte leaders rename uptown’s Stonewall Street to erase an honor to Confederate Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, the city might also have to look one block away, to Hill Street.

In 1869, Charlotte’s elected leaders – then called aldermen – voted to rename four uptown streets, creating Stonewall, Hill, Vance and Lee streets, according to handwritten notes of the meeting at the time.

Stonewall is believed to be named for the general. Hill Street, near Bank of America Stadium, is believed to be named for another Confederate general, Daniel Harvey Hill, born near York, S.C.

Vance Street – likely named for Zebulon Baird Vance, a Confederate general and N.C. governor – is gone, bulldozed for Interstate 277. Lee Street was likely named for Robert E. Lee. But it’s a mystery where Lee Street was, if a name was ever changed to it. Lee Street doesn’t appear on a city map from 1877.

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This Charlotte from 1877 shows three streets were renamed in 1869: Stonewall, Hill and Vance streets. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said Wednesday that she would support renaming Stonewall Street.

“I absolutely support renaming Stonewall Street,” Roberts said in a statement after her campaign manager, Sam Spencer, discussed the issue at an NAACP forum Tuesday. “As I’ve said for years, Confederate monuments belong in museums, not in places of public prominence. We should evaluate the names we are making prominent in our public square, and this issue is worthy of council discussion.”

One of her opponents, Democratic State Sen. Joel Ford, said he, too, would consider renaming the street. Democratic Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles, who is also running for mayor, said she would discuss changing the name with the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission.

The possibility of renaming the street alarmed some Charlotteans, and many said they weren’t aware that the street was named for the general.

Ten years ago, the City Council debated whether to rename Stonewall for Martin Luther King Jr. At the time, local historian Dan Morrill said he was uncertain whether the street was specifically named for the general, and the issue faded away.

The Charlotte Area Transit System opened the Lynx Blue Line in 2007 and named a station on the street “Stonewall.” Today the street is booming with hundreds of millions of dollars in new development, and some developers have included the name Stonewall into their project names.

Crescent Communities is building “Stonewall Station,” which will include a Whole Foods. A block away, Northwood Ravin is building a new residential and retail project called “550 Stonewall.”

A spokesperson for Crescent Communities said it usually names its multifamily complexes after their home neighborhoods.

“Crescent’s Uptown development features a direct connection to the Stonewall Station light rail stop, a unique feature for which the project was named,” Crescent’s statement said. “If the name of either the street or transit station were to change, Crescent would likely revisit the name of the development to ensure it continues to accurately promote the community’s distinct location.”

Morrill said he doesn’t believe most Charlotteans think about the connection to the general.

“I don’t think that’s in their consciousness,” he said. “That’s just Stonewall Street to them.”

Lyles agreed.

“I wasn’t certain,” she said. “There seems to be some conflict going on about it.”

Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP, said she was aware the street was named for the general, but changing it wasn’t a priority for her. She said the name of the street was discussed during a roundtable with millennials.

“Some young people talked about racism, and how can you have all these different things named after known racists,” she said. “I do support putting any statues or symbols in terms of the Confederacy in a museum. But for me that’s not a priority. For me the priority is overcoming injustices, improving police accountability, homelessness, economic opportunity.”

City leaders have been hearing from residents on both sides of the issue. Wilton Carter of Charlotte emailed Roberts and other council members this week, saying the street’s name shouldn’t be changed.

“If now street names are to be changed, I wonder when the CSA memorial (at Elmwood Cemetary) might be removed as well as my grandfather’s grave marker at Elmwood,” he wrote.

If there are some Charlotteans who aren’t aware of Stonewall Street’s link to the Civil War, even fewer are probably aware of Hill Street’s connections.

West Hill Street was severed by Bank of America Stadium in the mid-1990s. Half of the street is northwest of the stadium, with a small portion remaining between Church Street and North College Street.

Hill was a Confederate general and Jackson’s brother-in-law.

Morrill said he believed Stonewall Street may have been named to honor the general’s wife, Mary Anna Jackson. She was born in Lincolnton and lived in Charlotte during the war. She died in Charlotte in 1915.

The handwritten notes from the June 26 aldermen meeting doesn’t give a detailed explanation of their action. The notes say: “Streets named as follows: Vance, Hill, Stonewall, Lee. Board adjourned.”

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Hand-written notes from the June 26, 1869 meeting of Charlotte aldermen show they approved naming for streets for Confederate generals: Vance, Hill, Stonewall and Lee. Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

Thomas Cole, a librarian at the Main Library’s research room, speculates that Second Street might have been intended to become Lee Street, but that the city never followed through. Second Street’s name was changed to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard last decade. Of the four names, Lee is the only one who didn’t have a connection to Charlotte or the Carolinas.

City Council member Kenny Smith is the leading Republican candidate for mayor. Smith said Friday he doesn’t believe people are focused on wanting to change the name of the street, and that the city should concentrate on issues such as crime.

Staff writer Ely Portillo contributed.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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