In the small town of Lake Wales, Florida, a proposition to change a street name has divided the townspeople into their respective corners. The proposal? Rename Washington Avenue after the current president. But while Barack Obama Avenue had its supporters, the city commission ultimately failed to get a second vote in favor of the motion.
A local pastor, Steve Livingston, said that George Washington was “a great man who did a lot of great things for our nation.” He went on to say that taking down the Washington signs and replacing them with Obama signs was a disgraceful way to treat the memory of the fabled first POTUS. He also thought it was an honor Obama did not deserve. “Obama has done nothing to warrant his name, as far as I’m concerned, on any street. But particularly Washington.”
Another resident, Jackie Williams, said, “It goes against history. Washington was our first president.”
Still another said that changing the name of the street was “essentially saying that the history and legacy of President Washington is no longer important or relevant.”
Naturally, not all were in agreement. Several Lake Wales residents said that the move reflected the times, matched the demographics of those who live along Washington Avenue, and constituted a step into the future. “Washington, he didn’t represent African-American people,” said Kerry Davis. “He had slaves. It’s time to stop living in the past.”
Another resident said that the name change would give young men in the area a role model. “The young black guys, they need a motivation,” said Leon Broaders.
The city commission will not be changing Washington Avenue to Barack Obama Avenue, but they did vote 4 to 1 to name another Lake Wales road after the current president. They said they would take comments from residents before deciding which of the current streets would be renamed at a later date.
A Wider Debate Writ Small
It’s hard to get too worked up about something as meaningless as a small-town street, but this is patently ridiculous. What in the name of the first 43 presidents has Obama done to deserve a street named after him? Now, you may argue that you can find roads named after every other president, and that’s all well and good. In time, that will be the case for Obama as well. But this is premature, and the idea that a town would even think of replacing Washington with Obama is sad and laughable.
What about the concerns of Lake Wales resident Kerry Davis? Is it a valid argument that we should erase the legacy of George Washington because he was a slave owner? Of course not. This is a mistake that liberals make 100 percent of the time. There is no legitimate way to judge a man of another era by the standards of today. Society changes. Thought progresses. Washington himself set his slaves free in his will, long before the end of that dark chapter in American history. His participation in a practice that was acceptable at the time does not diminish his importance to the founding of the United States.
In its own, nearly-insignificant way, the Lake Wales debate is symbolic of the larger American struggle. One group of Americans want to forget the past and bury the Founding Fathers in an unmarked grave. Another group thinks that maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to forget the men who laid the foundation of the greatest country to ever exist. And though this was a small victory for the latter group, the war is being won by the former. Obama D.C., here we come.