Residents speak against R.E. Lee change proposal

ELKINS — Two city residents spoke in protest of a city council member’s proposal to rename Robert E. Lee Avenue during Friday’s Elkins City Council meeting.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Cindy Ulrich, of Central Street, said, “I just wanted to voice my opinion on the Robert E. Lee street name change. I am not for it. That street has been there since … I’m 62 years old, and that street has been there.

“Robert E. Lee, in my opinion, was a good man. My grandmother, when her mother was a young lady, Robert E. Lee and his regiment of men stayed in their barn when they were passing through. And she thought very highly of him.

“Most of you would know my father, Artie Shaw. But my father’s real name was Robert E. Lee Shaw. He’s not with us anymore, but he would be very opposed to having that name changed,” Ulrich said.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Marly Hazen proposed during the public comment section of the May 2 council meeting that Robert E. Lee Avenue be renamed for Katherine Johnson, a renowned NASA mathematician who is a West Virginia native.

Hazen wrote during a Facebook post on May 2 that it would “do us proud” to remove the name of the Confederate general in order to honor Johnson, the first black graduate student at West Virginia University.

“When I spoke to Hazen … on the phone, I asked her, ‘Why that street? Why not Harrison Avenue?’ I said, ‘I’ll tell you why. It’s because of that name, isn’t it?” Ulrich said at Thursday’s meeting. “And she said, ‘It offends me.’ Well, it offends me that she would want that name changed.

“That street has nothing to do with tourism,” she added. “Most people come in here to see our great town. They don’t care about that street name. Through the years our tourism is getting better and better.”

Next to speak during the public comment section was Beverly Woods, of Baron Avenue, who is Ulrich’s sister.

“My issue with (the proposed name change) is actually two-fold,” Woods said. “I don’t live on that street, but I feel bad for the people who do. We’re talking about the expense of changing your address, and the stationary for the … (Elkins) Middle School, so there’s a cost issue as well as the inconvenience of changing your address and contacting everyone who needs to know you’re address has changed.

“(My father) was named after Robert E. Lee because he brought his regiment to stay at our great-grandparents’ farm,” Wood said. “If you start there, then you have to go to Stonewall Jackson. Jackson’s Mill is named after Stonewall Jackson, another general of the Confederacy. Jackson’s Mill, Stonewall Jackson Hospital…

“There’s a lot of history there,” she said. “You can’t erase history… It’s an important part of our history and our culture. You don’t want to erase that.”

No council members or other city officials commented after Ulrich and Woods spoke, as is the standard practice during the public comment period.

The name change proposal will have to make its way through the committee process in order to come before city council for a vote.

The next city council meeting will be at 7 p.m. June 6 in City Hall.