PHOENIX (3TV/CBS5) -- The Phoenix City Council has voted unanimously to formally consider renaming two streets that have names some consider offensive. The decision to change the names of Robert E. Lee Street and Squaw Peak Drive comes following public outcry across the country to do away with statues and monuments considered derogatory or offensive.
Letters will now be sent out to property owners along the two streets, and residents will be asked to rank the 5 top new possible names. The City of Phoenix has agreed to pay for any homeowner expenses for changing over their addresses. They will also provide free assistance to residents who need help making changes.
Some neighbors have opposed the name changes, while others have embraced it. Some who were against it said it would mean altering addresses on letterhead, bills and other important documents. But those who support the change say it's overdue.
"I'm glad we're finally doing this," said Phoenix City Councilman Sal Ciccio during Wednesday's council meeting. "It should have been done a long time ago."
Before making any changes, the City has been seeking public opinion on the matter, inviting citizens to submit comments or participate in open forums.
Back in 2017, then-Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton also made an effort to change the names of those two streets as well, but the change did not go through.
So What's In a Name?
Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee was the commander of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Following the death of George Floyd in police custody and the subsequent weeks of protests and unrest, there has been a push to remove the names of Confederate commanders from states across the U.S. In the wake of the controversy, it was decided that two Confederate monuments in Arizona should be moved off of state property and onto private lands. The first monument was located at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in downtown Phoenix. The second monument was located near U.S. 60 outside of Gold Canyon.
The word "squaw" is a term that many feel is offensive and demeans women, particularly Native American women. The mountain now known as "Piestewa Peak" used to be called "Squaw Peak" until the name was changed 17 years ago. Now, it bears the name of Army Spc. Lori Ann Piestewa, who was killed in action in Iraq in March 2003. She was the first female soldier killed in action in the war, and the first Native American woman to die in combat in the U.S. military.
The state's newly-elected governor at the time, Gov. Janet Napolitano, recognized the chance to honor a national hero and put a controversial geographical name in the past. The governor's request for a name change ignored the required waiting period of five years after a person's death prior to renaming a geographic feature after them. Arizona officially recognized the name change on April 17, 2003.
It was a different outcome when the feds took up the matter. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names refused to accept a similar petition for a name change citing its own five-year waiting rule. After five years, the board agreed to review the request ultimately approving the name change to Piestewa Peak.
The mountain wasn't the only name change spurred by Piestewa's death. State officials also decided to change the name of the freeway that runs right beside the mountain, as well. From the start of the freeway planning in the 1960s, State Route 51 was known as the Squaw Peak Parkway. On May 1, 2003, it was renamed the Piestewa Freeway in honor of the fallen soldier.