Austin, Texas, Could Be Renamed To Confront An Ugly Part Of Its History

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In a push to sever ties to all things Confederacy, one city in Texas is considering changing the moniker of any municipal property that bears a name intended to commemorate the Confederate States of America. But could ties to slavery also see the name of Texas' capital city changed? An official review of Confederate and pro-slavery-linked premises has suggested the city of Austin, Texas, change its name to break all of its pro-slavery Confederate connections.

Austin's Equity Office has suggested the city could go beyond simply removing all of its Confederate markers and changing the names of any streets or parks that bear Confederate-inspired names. To truly shed its pro-slavery and Confederate past, a review conducted by the office suggests the city must rename itself altogether due to its namesake's pro-slavery past.

The city of Austin gets its name from a man commonly referred to as "the father of Texas," Stephen Fuller Austin. But Austin, who died well before the Confederacy was created, didn't only found the American colony that would later grow into the state of Texas, he also opposed bans on slavery. According to a PBS biography, Austin successfully lobbied against the Mexican government to defeat a ban on slavery in Texas in 1827.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, Austin's namesake argued that if slaves were allowed to become freemen, they'd turn into "vagabonds, a nuisance, and a menace." The Washington Post, described him as a man who "had long understood that slave labor was the economic engine that would power prosperity for the territory" of Texas.

But although the city's name was included in the Equity Office's review of Confederate-linked municipal property, Austin city officials have said the inclusion shouldn't be seen as an attempt to change the capital city's name. "No one sees this as an attempt to change the name of the city," Austin city spokesperson David Green told the Washington Post.

While Austin's Equity Office explicitly recommended removing three of the city's historical markers and changing the names of seven streets intentionally meant to honor the Confederacy, they also put together a second list. That second list, which included the city's name, focused on municipal property that wasn't necessarily linked to the Confederacy, but to slavery, segregation, or racism. The Equity Office did not attach explicit recommendations for action to the items included in the second list, but rather noted that Austin's City Council might want to discuss them.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, changing the city's name wouldn't be easy. While changing the names of streets requires action from the City Council and the holding of public hearings to gather residents' input, changing the city's name would likely require an election, the paper reported.

While the Equity Office's review noted that "nearly all monuments to the Confederacy and its leaders were erected without a true democratic process" — meaning that people of color were not allowed the opportunity to oppose them — it also questioned if the recommended changes would lead to a slippery slope. "What's next and where do we stop?" the Austin American-Statesman quoted the office as having written in their review.