On July 22, the Valdosta City Council voted in favor of renaming Forrest Street to Barack Obama Blvd. after DJ Davis, the vice president of A.C.T.I.O.N. at VSU, delivered a speech in support of this decision.
The vote was almost unanimous. Councilmember Andrew Gibbs was the only one to oppose the vote.
According to Gibbs, there is reason to believe that Forrest Street was named after Elbert Forrest, a Black man from Valdosta, rather than Ku Klux Klan member Nathan Bedford Forrest as A.C.T.I.O.N. has suggested.
Elbert Forrest was a slave who, after gaining his freedom, founded the First Antioch Baptist Church in Valdosta.
Gibbs delivered his case in defense of leaving the street name as is, and he suggested that the city council table the vote for two weeks. However, the vote went ahead as planned and A.C.T.I.O.N. achieved what they had set out to do in renaming the street.
“I’m excited, but I’m kind of frustrated at the same time,” Davis said. “The reason I’m frustrated is because we shouldn’t have to go through this process.”
The “process” Davis mentions includes obtaining petition signatures, raising funds to compensate Valdosta for the expenses of changing a street name and many other requirements.
Although the motion to rename Forrest Street passed with overwhelming support, according to a Valdosta City Council ordinance, the renaming of Forrest Street to Barack Obama Blvd. will not go into effect until 90 days after the July 22 city council meeting.
“If it’s collectively pushing white supremacy, we need to get rid of it,” Davis said. “We’re going to do this by the book, and we’re going to continue doing this by the book.”
The history behind the street name and who it is named after is unclear.
In the 1800s, Forrest Street was spelled Forest Street. In 1977, it was changed to the spelling with two R’s that we see today.
Both Nathan Bedford Forrest and Elbert Forrest had passed away at least 50 years before the spelling of Forrest Street was changed, and there is no available documentation regarding why this change was made.
This is why Gibbs raised a motion to postpone the vote. He felt that the discovery of this new information regarding the street’s history was reason enough to reconsider renaming it since there is no proof that Forrest Street is named after Nathan Bedford Forrest.
“That’s why I was just saying, ‘hey look, let’s highlight it [Forrest Street] after Elbert Forrest,” Gibbs said. “He was a preacher here, started a church, rebuilt a church, his brother was a brick mason, his daughter was a schoolteacher here. Why not just make it him?”
According to Davis, this successful street name change is the first of many, and A.C.T.I.O.N.’s next goal could be to honor Elbert Forrest.
Written by Zach Edmondson, sports editor. Photo courtesy of Zach Edmondson.