Fairfield street names latest Confederate markers to face scrutiny in Butler County

There are a pair of streets off John Gray Road in Fairfield named for Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. City officials are reviewing the process to rename streets in the city. Pictured is the intersection of John Gray Road and Robert E. Lee Drive. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
There are a pair of streets off John Gray Road in Fairfield named for Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. City officials are reviewing the process to rename streets in the city. Pictured is the intersection of John Gray Road and Robert E. Lee Drive. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Fairfield has received some resident complaints about two of its street names, but the city’s mayor believes changing of any street name should be supported by a supermajority of residents before action is taken.

Robert E. Lee Drive and Stonewall Lane are near the southern border of Fairfield, named for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

City Manager Mark Wendling said the city is “researching the process should it be determined that the names of the streets should be changed.”

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Demands for renaming streets and buildings, and removing statues had reignited in the weeks following the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, who died on May 25 after a police officer placed a knee on his neck during an arrest. Marches and protests have called for unity and an end to systemic racism, and many have called for communities and organizations to remove historical reminders of the county’s segregationist past.

Locally, a monument in Franklin honoring Lee was relocated in 2017. This action followed the violence in Charlottesville, Va. that happened as white nationalists protested the removal of a statue of Lee.

The Lee monument, which was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy nearly a century ago, was at the corner of South Dixie Highway and Hamilton-Middletown Road and was removed in the middle of the night. The monument has been in front of the Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge in Franklin since June 2018.

Lee never fought a battle in Ohio.

Just this month, the University of Cincinnati voted to remove Marge Schott’s name from the school’s baseball stadium and archive library. U.C. President Neville G. Pinto said the former Cincinnati Reds baseball team majority owner’s “record of racism and bigotry stands at stark odds with our university’s core commitment to dignity, equity and inclusion.”

Mayor Steve Miller said any street renaming process would need to be created as a City Council policy on the process as “we never really had to do this.”

“In my opinion, Council just can’t wave a magic wand and do this, it’s going to have to be more resident-driven, and it’s obviously going to have to be accepted by the residents here — and I’m thinking super majority myself,” he said.

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Paul Hesse, a 27-year resident of Stonewall Lane, said when he heard the city was researching this, “I thought it was a joke.” The subdivision was developed in the 1970s.

“I am really against renaming streets, one because of the cost involved,” he said. “Not just the changing of signs, which of course pretty small, but it’s the personal cost of everyone who lives on the street.”

Hesse said bank accounts and legal documents like wills, trusts and deeds would need to be changed, saying, “that only doesn’t just cost me money but it also cost me a great deal of time.”

“I know this is a very charged political environment and a very charged political issue but ultimately based on what the city of Fairfield is facing with the coronavirus … I’m assuming there’s more important things the city’s considering for the finances that they have than changing the names of streets,” he said.

One public social media comment made was by Matthew Scott, a Fairfield resident, who wrote on the city’s Facebook page under an unrelated post: “When are you going to rename Stonewall Ln and Robert E. Lee Dr? This is despicable.”

Developers, not local government officials, name streets during the road construction process.