Fort Smith Board begins process that could result in renaming Albert Pike Avenue

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,083 views 

Following a unanimous vote by the Fort Smith School Board to change the name of Albert Pike Elementary School, the Fort Smith Board of Directors will on Sept. 8 begin to look at the process and possibility of renaming Albert Pike Avenue.

During Tuesday’s (Aug. 25) Fort Smith Board study session, City Director André Good asked that the board begin looking at the process, impact and other factors involved in renaming Albert Pike Avenue. City Director Lavon Morton seconded the request, with the item placed on the Sept. 8 study session agenda.

The controversial effort within the Fort Smith Public Schools to rename the school building began earlier this year when the district’s Vision 2023 Equity and Minority Recruitment team recommended a renaming because of Pike’s white supremacist beliefs.

Albert Pike settled in Fort Smith in 1833 and taught school while he studied law. He opened a law practice in 1834. He later served as a general in the Confederate Army. Pike joined a petition in 1858 to “expel all free blacks from the State of Arkansas” and wrote in 1868, “We mean that the white race, and that race alone, shall govern this country. It is the only one that is fit to govern, and it is the only one that shall.”

Good, the only African-American on the Fort Smith Board, told Talk Business & Politics he believes it’s overdue for the city to have this discussion.

“I want the board to discuss, the city leaders to discuss a very sensitive matter. This is not just a phase that people are going through. This is about dealing with real life issues,” Good said. “You know, we grew up thinking all these schools, all these places, were named after great leaders, after great leaders in Arkansas. And then when you get older, you learn that they are white supremacists and the like.”

Prior to Tuesday’s study session, City Administrator Carl Geffken sent to board members a proposed new policy outlining the process to name and rename buildings, streets and other infrastructure. The revised policy, which has not been approved by the board, notes that the “renaming of streets is strongly discouraged.”

“Efforts to change the name of a street should be subject to the most critical examination due to factors related to commerce, public safety response, cost to the public for implementing the name change, and other economic implications or hardships to property owners along the street that might be associated with changing address designations,” according to the revised language.

Factors to be revised by the city administrator, according to the proposed revisions, include:
• The number of properties, parcels, structures and/or addresses that would be affected by changing the name of the street;
• The number of intersections along the street that would require replacement of street signage and the estimated cost of materials and labor to make and install new signs to reflect the name change; and
• Any issues regarding changing the street name in the 9-1-1 address database should be identified.

Following a review, the city administrator would then recommend to the board if the street name should change or remain the same.

“If the Board determines the name change should move forward, such decision shall be publicized in a local newspaper for at least a two-week period and citizen comments shall be requested. The Board shall consider all public comments received. At any time following the two-week public notice period and after considering all public comments received, the Board may finalize the decision regarding renaming the street,” notes the revised policy.

Good said he has no set time frame in mind for action on renaming the street, but said he would like to see a change before the end of 2020.