BY SUSANNAH BRYAN
TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — He was a Confederate commander who helped found the Ku Klux Klan, but streets that run through Hollywood still bear his name. At least for now.
For months, Hollywood resident Benjamin Israel has been leading the charge to get city commissioners to change the name of Forrest Street, named for Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Commissioners agreed last week a name change might be worth looking into, but only after they check with residents who live on the street to see what they think.
“Can you imagine waking up one day and reading in the newspaper that your street has been renamed?” Mayor Peter Bober asked during a meeting at City Hall. “People who live on that street should know that we’re even talking about this. We should put out letters to let them know.”
The matter came to light in July after vandals twice targeted street signs named for Forrest, spraying them with black paint. An anonymous email sent to several news outlets, including the Sun Sentinel, claimed credit for the vandalism and chided the city for naming streets after “historical racists.”
Police are still searching for the culprits.
Israel, an African-American and Orthodox Jew, says he got involved because he wants to right a wrong.
“After the Civil War was over, (Forrest) helped found the KKK,” Israel said. “People say he disbanded it. Well, tell those people who were lynched and killed. If there was a street named after a member of the Nazi party going through a Jewish neighborhood, it wouldn’t fly. I know that, being a Jew all my life.”
‘A touchy subject’
Bober agrees the issue deserves to be treated with sensitivity.
“If we do this thing, we are going to do it because it’s the moral thing to do,” Bober said. “If I were to find out that a bunch of streets were named after a bunch of Nazis, I would be offended. I can totally understand how African-Americans feel about having streets named after Civil War generals.”
Commissioner Traci Callari argued the street’s name serves as a sobering reminder of the nation’s history.
“It’s such a touchy subject,” Callari said. “But if we erase it, we forget about it. It’s a horrible reminder of what happened. Just like we have Holocaust museums and slavery museums, so we can learn about those things and not repeat the same things.”
Some don’t care
But Commissioner Dick Blattner said critics of Forrest Street have a legitimate complaint.
“The passions of the people need to be heard,” Blattner said. “And these people are passionate.”
Many people — including some who live there — don’t realize the street in Hollywood’s historically Black Liberia neighborhood was named after a founder of the KKK, Commissioner Peter Hernandez said.
Some of those residents don’t care if the street name stays the same, Hernandez said. “It’s the people who don’t live on the street who say we are glorifying someone who doesn’t deserve to be glorified,” he said.
Commissioner Linda Sherwood suggested the street be renamed only in the Liberia neighborhood.
Commissioner Patty Asseff argued that if the name is changed, it needs to be changed citywide.
“You can’t just change it in Liberia,” she said. “You do it from one side of the city to the other. And it should be up to the people who live on the streets.”
Hernandez suggested changing the name to Forest Street by dropping the extra “r” to make it easier on homeowners and shop owners, who would be forced to change their addresses and business signs if the street gets a new name.
Israel blasted that plan, saying the name would still be Forest.
“There is only one issue — morality,” he said. “What’s right and what’s wrong. And it’s wrong for his name to be up there. We’ve got to get rid of it, completely. If someone puts a knife in your back and pulls it out just an inch, the knife is still there.”