What’s In A Name

I have never been able to come up with a rule about this type of stuff

Caldwell Park attracts dog walkers and joggers in Southside, and now it’s attracting attention because of its name.

The park is named for Dr. Henry Caldwell, who designed Highland Avenue and was president of the Elyton Land Co., which settled much of the city. He also was an officer in the Confederate Army who owned slaves before the Civil War.

Former Birmingham City Councilman John Katopodis says that history doesn’t merit honor, and he has proposed changing the park’s name to recognize former City Councilwoman Nina Miglionico.

I don’t know of a universal solution to debates like this one, or ones over the confederate flag. I only have a few guidelines.

First, no caricatures. Sure, some of the supporters are racist trash and some of the opposition are self absorbed babies. But by and large each side’s concerns are valid. No one wants to be reminded of their oppression. On the other hand, one sin – though egregious – does not poison every other aspect of a society.

Second, no new monuments to the confederacy. Why inflame the situation?

Third, balance is the key. I would oppose, for example, flying the confederate flag over a state capital building. The flag has been too abused, and flying it over an official building looks too much like an official sanction for this to occur. Caldwell Park, though, ought to stay Caldwell Park. Its namesake played an important and beneficial role role in Birmingham’s history. Sure he owned slaves, but travel half a mile from Caldwell and you get to Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard. If you were to think the name of the park meant B’ham approved of Caldwell’s sins, your mistake would be corrected by seeing that the City’s main street is named after its first black mayor.

Leaving the names as they are lets us see the history of the City. We learn about the people to whom those names belonged and the people who decided to enshrine those names.

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3 Comments on “What’s In A Name”

  1. Dan Says:

    It does get pretty gray in this area, Wheeler. I think you have to give some allowance for people to be a product of their time. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, etc. etc. were slave owners too. So I guess I say you have to give these guys some slack, but very very little, and they’d better be pretty freaking important to overcome how wrong they were.

  2. Dystopos Says:

    Erasing history doesn’t help people avoid repeating it. Even though Miss Nina’s achievement outclass Caldwell’s in every measure, I do not support re-naming things lightly, especially if doing so would obscure something worth remembering as either a good or bad example.

    A few notes:
    1. Despite the News’ claim, Caldwell did not actually design Highland Avenue. The honor goes to Willis Milner who worked for Caldwell. Milner’s cousin Ino (called John), the railroad engineer who selected the site for Birmingham, staked out the street on the ground.
    2. Caldwell Avenue, uphill from the park, also honors the former Elyton Land Co. president so he wouldn’t be left without his name on the map.
    3. Nina Miglionico has declared that she does not want the Caldwell Park renamed for her and does not seek any such honor. She did suggest that former city official Hugh Denman is overdue for public recognition.
    4. In 1999 the Birmingham City Council had a proposal on the agenda to name the Morris Avenue Multi-Modal Transit Station “Nina Station” in her honor. The proposal was withdrawn before it was considered.
    5. Miglionico lived on Essex Road when she was first on the council. It was there that her father discovered a bomb placed by terrorists seeking to prevent her re-election to a second term. There is a park on Essex Road named “Essex Park”, or more commonly “Triangle Park” which currently honors no person.
    6. Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson both have area schools named after them. These men play a negligible role in the prehistory of Birmingham.
    7. More significant is Trussville, named for Warren Truss who brought 17 slaves with him from North Carolina. Jefferson County itself is named for Thomas Jefferson, whose relationship with his slaves has been repeatedly scrutinized. But for the fact that most local development occurred after the Progressive Era was well underway, we would undoubtedly have many more examples.


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