Confederates Surrender to Gen. Sweeney
We have commented previously on the effort to change three street names in Hollywood from those of prominent Confederate generals. It’s a problematic idea and reflects a general misunderstanding of the complexities of the Civil War. That bloody conflict was rooted in the birth of the country—an ongoing debate over the supremacy of a federal government over individual states.
Slavery was the economic cause of the war. Without it, there would have been no friction worthy of 600,000 deaths. But there was also a political cause, for which most men fought, and this is what those opposed to Confederate monuments don’t seem to get. The Southern states did not think Northern states should tell them what to do. And with few exceptions, soldiers went to war for their neighborhoods.
Historians regard one of the generals, Robert E. Lee, as a great American. Like almost every prominent officer and enlisted man, he fought for his state. His gracious acceptance of defeat and subsequent reunification of the states helped ease the bitterness of the loss among Southerners.
Few historians would deny that had they been alive during the Civil War, such honored men as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson would have been on the Southern side. Probably even George Washington. Proud Virginians all.
The other disputed streets are named after John Bell Hood and Nathan Bedford Forrest, both prominent Southern military leaders. Hood was a very brave and aggressive soldier who gave half his body (an arm and most of a leg) to Confederate service. Unlike the others, he was not a gifted general, but he also had more than his share of bad luck.
Forrest was a brilliant commander. Historian Shelby Foote wrote that he and Abraham Lincoln were the two geniuses produced by the war. The knock on him is that he was a pre-war slave dealer, and helped start the Ku Klux Klan, as a political movement to combat the excesses of the Reconstruction Era. What is often ignored is that he also turned against the Klan just a few years later when it became too violent. He helped shut it down. Still, he is the one man whose legacy is understandably tarnished.
Anyway, the war to rename the streets goes on. The consensus seems to be that, even among those who think the whole thing is rather silly, if it gives offense to people, let the changes occur. But it is getting to be an economic battle. Residents of the three streets are complaining about all the work they will need to do to change their addresses on driver’s licenses and other documents. It is possible their mail will be misdelivered for the rest of their lives. Hollywood officials estimate the cost of the name changes at more than $22,000.
A few weeks ago, the Sun-Sentinel quoted one such resident who did not want to go to the trouble of changing personal documents:
“What bothers me is that people who don’t live on the street and don’t even live in Hollywood are getting involved. What do they care? It’s not going to impact them at all.”
Ironically, that’s similar to the attitude Southerners had toward the North during the Civil War.
Because we do not live on the aforementioned streets, we accept this neighbor’s kind invitation to butt into this conversation with a modest proposal. Instead of spending $22,000 to rename the streets, how about spending almost nothing to rename the people they are named after? Simply put in the record, as we are doing right now, that Lee Street is named for Spike Lee. We don’t know everything about that distinguished fellow, but we are confident that he or his ancestors were not officers in the Confederate Army.
Forrest Street could be retro-named after that universal American hero—Forrest Gump. Although Mr. Gump was from Alabama, his gentle and loving nature reflects the national desire to bring people together again, so helpful in these divided times.
He was also a bit on the simple-minded side, a secondary tribute to the folks pushing for the name changes.
As for Hood Street, there are options. It could be named after Robin Hood, who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, which should be a popular sentiment in that part of Hollywood. To broaden the tribute, why not name it generically, after all the hoods in the world. That is an umbrella expression, which has changed over the years. In Philadelphia in the 1950s, it was applied to young men of culturally inadequate backgrounds and was sometimes applicable to women as well. In basic terms, it meant the opposite of preppy. There are probably a few representatives of that genre living in Hollywood right now.
Having just saved the city of Hollywood $22,000 in cash and untold amounts in aggravation, we ask nothing in return except to have a street named after a Gen. McCormick. Alas, there were no Gen. McCormicks in the Civil War. We would settle for mother’s name; there was a Union general, and a pretty good one, named Sweeney. A Cork man; we would have preferred he be from Donegal. Either way, he should provoke no ire. Now, just find that lucky street.