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Here Are Angry Emails Sent to Mayor Stanton About Changing Offensive Street Names

Here Are Angry Emails Sent to Mayor Stanton About Changing Offensive Street Names
Antonia Farzan
Mayor Greg Stanton has been taking some heat for his push to change the names of Robert E. Lee Street and Squaw Peak Drive.

A headline in the conservative Daily Caller sums up the prevailing attitude: "Phoenix Mayor Shoves Homeowners Aside In Bid To Change ‘Racist’ Street Names."

Phoenix New Times obtained copies of emails and letters sent to Stanton and members of the Phoenix City Council about the potential renaming of both streets. The overwhelming majority are negative, with many residents dismissing Native Americans' concerns about the use of the word "squaw."

Thomas Gardner, a Biltmore Highlands resident who identifies himself as a third-generation Arizonan, writes, "My respect for Phoenix and in fact Arizona heritage is far more important to me and the overwhelming majority than a reputed disrespect to a vocal minority."

Likewise, Alice Jones, a resident of East Squaw Peak Drive, writes that "there are many other hiking trails and parks in the Phoenix area for Native Americans to enjoy without seeing the two signs that show the words Squaw Peak Drive."

Continuing to completely miss the point, she goes on to argue, "According to the most recent U.S. Census, the Native American population in Phoenix is two percent of the total Phoenix population [...] Two percent does not represent the city of Phoenix."

Jones also criticizes former Governor Janet Napolitano for renaming the neighboring mountain after Lori Piestewa, who died in combat during the Iraq War, "without the advice and approval of state government."

Clearly still salty about that decision, she writes, "Now that name Squaw Peak — as many people still call it — has been changed, that is enough for Piestewa who was half Native American."

click to enlarge ANTONIA FARZAN
Antonia Farzan
Others, like Linda Grass of East Squaw Peak Drive, make the argument that not all Native Americans are offended by the name.

This is not exactly surprising — it's not like Native Americans are some monolithic group that agrees on everything, all the time.

But Grass uses her Native American hairdresser as ammunition, writing, "I asked my hairdresser's opinion of the concern about the term 'squaw' being offensive to Native Americans and was told that she thinks it is being drastically overblown by a few and the name doesn't need to be changed."

Perhaps the strangest argument against the renaming of Squaw Peak Drive came from Edward Blundon and Frances Howard, who live nearby.

Both argued that Piestewa Peak should not have been named after Lori Piestewa because, as Blundon put it, her name "evokes memories of [an] unnecessary and controversial war."

In a separate letter, Howard wrote, "I ask that you take my comments to heart and either leave the name of the Drive as is, or select a suitable name that reflects the beauty of the neighborhood we all enjoy celebrating, rather than the name of an individual whose memory unfortunately is associated with a serious mistake made by our country."

And then there are the writers who make the "slippery slope" argument, like Glenda Strickland, who describes herself as a property owner on Squaw Peak Drive since 1990 and a native of Arizona.

Strickland writes, "There will always be a few who are never satisfied, ride the political correctness till the horse is dead and then keep riding it. They complain for the sake of complaining. We cannot and should not change history. If we did that then we should give up the deeds to our property and to all things in the city as all [of it] was stolen from the Native Americans by our ancestors."

That same line of argument also comes up frequently in letters and emails from people opposing the renaming of Robert E. Lee Street in northeast Phoenix, which got added more recently to the list of street names that Mayor Stanton hopes to change.

"While we are at it, let's discuss changing the names of streets such as Washington, Jefferson, and Van Buren, all who bought into slavery," Becky Nelson of Glendale writes, categorizing the people who support renaming the street as "a group of Yankees trying to sway decisions."

The news that Robert E. Lee Street's name might be changing also inspired messages from people with no apparent connection to Phoenix.

Terry Lee Bowers, writing from Martinez, Georgia, writes, "To dishonor Robert E. Lee can only be done by someone who is neither a gentleman, a Christian, or an American."

And Arnold Huskins of Summerville, South Carolina, warns, "Personally, my family and I have decided that if you and the City Council plan to carry out this dastardly deed, we feel, as Southerners, we are no longer welcome in Phoenix and will exclude the city from our future travel plans."

Only one person wrote in favor of renaming the streets: Manuel Ramos of East Michelle Drive, who says that he's lived one block off Robert E. Lee Street since 2010.

"We have a lot of company from out of state and I would say approximately 90% of our company ask 'Hey what's up with Robert E. Lee?'" he writes. "I am always at a loss to explain (and embarrassed) that I have no insight why the City of Phoenix has an affinity for the Confederacy."

You can read all the letters and emails below:

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Antonia Noori Farzan is a staff writer at New Times and an honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before moving to Arizona, she worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.