Mayor Kate Gallego

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego wants to change the names of two streets.

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS5) -- Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego says she wants to change the names of two Valley streets.

In a tweet Thursday, Gallego said she and her fellow City Council members have initiated the process for changing what she calls "offensive" Phoenix street names. Those streets are Robert E. Lee Street and Squaw Peak Drive.

Gallego says she will work with neighbors and city staff to start this process on July 1.

According to the spokeswoman for the mayor's office, placing this item on a City Council agenda only starts the process, so no signs will actually be taken down on July 1. A few years ago, the council changed the process of renaming streets and that is what this council will be abiding by. 

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.

At the time, there was push back from many property owners on both streets, who opposed changing their street names.

What's In a Name?

Robert E. Lee was a commander in the Confederate Army. 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.

Recently, Arizona's secretary of state said she wanted a monument to the region's Confederate troops removed from a public plaza adjacent to the state Capitol. Katie Hobbs said the monument should be taken from public display and placed into long-term storage indefinitely.

The word "squaw" is a term that many feel is offensive and demeans women, particularly Native American women.

Standing tall at 2,610 feet, the second-highest mountain in the Phoenix Mountains bears the name of a woman who only knew that particular peak by a name that may have offended her. 

The mountain is 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.

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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.

 

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