CORAL GABLES, Fla. – A step forward on Tuesday in the effort to change the name of Dixie Highway, a name often linked with the Confederacy.
Thanks to a unanimous vote, the City of Coral Gables decided to designate its portions of South Dixie Highway, or US-1, in the name of famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
A city memo stated that, “Dixie represents a troubling time in our nation’s past, marred by the inhuman celebration and unconscionable profit of the perils of racism, segregation, and the atrocities of slavery.”
The city showing support for replacing Dixie Highway with Harriet Tubman Highway in honor of, “the matchless legacy of a warrior whose heroic and selfless fight for freedom and justice has served the best interests of Miami-Dade County, the state of Florida, and the nation.”
When the measure first came before the city in January, it was voted down by a 2-3 margin.
One of those then no votes belonged to Vince Lago, now the mayor of Coral Gables.
This time, he supported the measure following allowance for community input.
“It was an overwhelming response that they were in favor of it,” he said.
The name change concept started at the county-level in February 2020 when Miami-Dade commissioners passed a measure to rename a stretch of US-1 from its border with Monroe County to I-95 north as the Harriet Tubman Highway, asking all municipalities impacted to join them.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, city documents show nine of the ten municipalities impacted along the specified stretch of US-1 have supported designation, with the exception of Coral Gables.
Actually renaming US-1 requires state approval and must go before the Florida Legislature.
According to Coral Gables’ Assistant City Attorney Naomi Levi-Garcia, during the city’s January meeting on the issue historical designation, it “can take place without State action” and clears the path for FDOT to erect historical designation signs. Renaming the highway, she said, to include all signs, “is a larger effort that requires State action and acceptance.”
At that January meeting, Levi-Garcia also explained to commissioners that the state needs to approve an official name change adding that a “feasibility study needs to be completed by FDOT to look at the cost and the time that would be involved with actually swiping out signage. And if that’s successful, which again is a separate effort, we might see signage switched out in the future. But at this point, we’re only looking at the installation of the brown designation signs, and there would only be two within the City of Coral Gables.”
During Wednesday’s city meeting Jacqui Colyer spoke to commissioners on behalf of a group that has been advocating for the name change and thanked them for their support, telling Local 10 News their advocacy efforts now move from securing historical designation on the local municipality level to a renaming effort at the state level.
Mayor Lago and Vice Mayor Michael Mena drew a distinction between this effort supporting a county resolution and a broader discussion about renaming landmarks pegged to figures with troubling legacies.
Both took the moment to express their discontent with a recent decision by the University of Miami to rename some buildings honoring those with documented racist pasts, to include the university’s founder, George Merrick.
In a memo, the university’s president and board of trustees chair stated that, “During this time of racial reckoning in the United States, the decisions we make must be shaped by our aspiration to be an exemplary institution in the community and nation. That desire compelled us to reevaluate how we can do better to address head-on the hurtful aspects of our past and apply their lessons to our future.”
Merrick also helped found Coral Gables.
A large bronze statue of Merrick stands outside City Hall which includes this quote inscribed at its base, “I have given my life to the development of our city and to the working out of an ideal.”
Mayor Lago and Vice Mayor Mena stated they felt the US-1 historical designation conversation was distinct from a citywide discussion about Merrick’s legacy given it was a countywide effort and not particular to the municipality.
Florida Department of Transportation: “The roadway designation signs are stand-alone signs that are posted on the roadway at the beginning and end of each designated section. In this case there will be four signs since there are two sections: two signs on South Dixie Highway/U.S. 1/S.R. 5 between the Monroe County line and S.R. 9A/I-95 Northbound in Miami-Dade County and two signs on W. Dixie Highway/S.R. 909 between N.E. 119th Street and N.E. 163rd Street in Miami-Dade County. The signs have been installed but are covered pending resolutions from all affected municipalities and Miami-Dade County. All of these have been received except for the City of Coral Gables. Once the Department receives the official supporting resolution from the City of Coral Gables the signs will be uncovered.”
Miami-Dade County: “The renaming of Dixie Highway to Harriet Tubman Highway is a major undertaking that requires coordination with multiple municipalities, local and state agencies. The Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW) is working with all agencies and municipalities involved. Currently, the County is pending approval from the State legislation prior to the completion of this project.
“Additionally, the County Resolution may require an amendment to add a separate designation for each of the three roads under County jurisdiction. Specific road designations that may be considered by the Board would be West Harriet Tubman Highway, South Harriet Tubman Highway, and Old Harriet Tubman Highway. This would be done in order help first responders easily identify the correct location of an emergency during a 911 call.”