By Steve Barnes
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - Little Rock, Arkansas, the scene of pivotal civil rights struggles, said farewell to Confederate Boulevard on Tuesday when its board of directors renamed the street to honor an African-American family prominent in the area since the Civil War.
By an 8-2 vote, the street name will be changed to Springer Boulevard after the Springer family, whose members have included clergy, farmers, businessmen and a family physician.
“This debate should only make us stronger and more tolerant of one another. Let’s hope we can all go forward," said Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, who presided over the meeting.
The battle flag of the Confederacy and other symbols of the Civil War South re-emerged as a lightning rods for outrage after the killings of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June. The accused gunman posed with the Confederate flag in photos posted online.
Several cities and states in the South responded by reassessing streets, memorials and other tributes to their Confederate history.
In Little Rock, members of the Springer family were glad that change had finally come to the Arkansas capital's Confederate Boulevard.
“While Confederate lives matter, we would like to stake our claim to the community just as your ancestors did when they landed at Plymouth Rock," Gloria Springer, a great-granddaughter of the family patriarch, said at the meeting.
It is widely believed the boulevard was originally named less to honor the Confederacy than to mark it as the principal route to a long-demolished home for Southern Civil War veterans.
Much of the road had been designated as Springer Boulevard 40 years ago, but a few blocks were retained as Confederate Boulevard in a concession to Civil War history enthusiasts and to merchants who protested the cost of changing mailing addresses.
Signs identifying the street as Springer, which is near the Clinton Presidential Library and the city’s airport, were not changed, however, until 2005.
Little Rock has been a focal point of the struggle for civil rights and garnered global attention in 1957 when federal troops were sent to the city to integrate Central High School.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Peter Cooney)