Raleigh public housing streets should draw names from history

February 18, 2014 

Raleigh Housing Authority Steve Beam is an expert magician, so now he can easily make the names he personally chose for the streets in the authority’s Walnut Terrace development disappear.

Whether it was a whim on Beam’s part or a sincere attempt to do something imaginative, naming streets after magicians was off the mark. Beam rationalized his decision, which was made without input from his governing board, by saying it was a testimony to the success of a development done without federal funding – “like magic.”

Oh, brother.

The authority seems to be reconsidering the street names, which it should. Frankly, board members need to pay closer attention to the operations of the agency in general.

Now, it will seek the advice of those in the community, and some already have identified people who deserve to have streets named for them: Dr. Lewyn McCauley, founder of a small private hospital on South Wilmington Street that treated African-American patients. Or Mattie Akins, who started Raleigh’s first black Girl Scout troop. And there was James Hamlin, founder of a pharmacy for black customers.

Those names reflect history and would, one hopes, prompt questions from younger people all over the city about who those people were and the significance of their contributions. Whenever streets are named, it should be an opportunity for the city to highlight its history.

The city should seek community input for names in any new development, no matter where it is, but it’s particularly important in historic neighborhoods and in those where, in this case, there were strong leaders at a time African-American citizens were disenfranchised. There are so many people who contributed to the future of Raleigh beyond the informal borders of their own neighborhoods who deserve to be acknowledged. This is a chance to offer them a bow.

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