Cincinnati May Consider Changing Name Of McMicken Avenue

Jan 6, 2020

Cincinnati Council may consider a proposal to change the name of a street just south of the University of Cincinnati's campus that carries the name of an enslaver. A council committee discussed the idea and the full council could take up the issue Wednesday.

A proposal by Council Member Jeff Pastor calls for the city administration to research a possible name change for McMicken Avenue and the feasibility of such a change.

"To me, this represents a correcting of our history," Pastor says.

Pastor's proposal is a follow up to UC's decision in December to remove Charles McMicken's name from the College of Arts and Sciences. McMicken was a business man in the early 1800s who donated money for the founding of what would become UC with the caveat that the school educate "white boys and girls." Research shows McMicken enslaved and sold African Americans and derived part of his wealth from the institution of slavery.

"...I thought it was important that the city follow the lead of one of the leading research institutions in the country and city," Pastor says.

He wants to get community input as part of the process as well.

During a discussion about his proposal Monday, Pastor draws a distinction between a street named for a business owner who died in the 1850s and the nation's founders.

"Good, bad or indifferent, they were the founding fathers," says Pastor. "I'm not advocating for us to go and change Jefferson's name and Washington's name - they lived in a different era. A hundred years later, there was a movement, a push in this country to change slavery. Even Thomas Jefferson owned slaves ... I'm making no excuses for the founding fathers, but these are two separate things. (That's) not a business owner who gave a million dollars and (saying) we're going to honor him by naming your streets."

Council Member Amy Murray worries that distinction won't be as clear for others.

"I worry that we're going to be going down a slope where we're changing a lot names in the city of Cincinnati."

Murray says that's why honorary street names tend to win out over direct renaming.

"I know when we've tried to change street names in the past it's almost always been honorary because, especially (for) the residents and businesses on that street, it can be a nightmare for them to have to change all their documents."

She also wonders what will be the "litmus test" for which street names get changed and which don't.

Pastor says he understands the litmus test argument but points out UC made the change, and he argues each case can be taken individually.

Though UC's board voted to remove McMicken from the name of the college, it will still appear on buildings and other places on campus. Signage will be used to add context to those areas, the university says.

The street name change process begins with the Department of City Planning. Katherine Keough-Jurs, city planning director, says that typically starts with a request to change a street name from one thing to another. The first step, she says, is to send a notice to property owners along the road in question to get feedback, such as the cost of changing letterhead and other cost-of-business effects.

A naming committee then meets to discuss the potential change, checking for things such as duplication. The proposal then goes to the City Planning Commission and finally Cincinnati Council.