Keep Waterloo Weird?
Last week, Austin's Equity Office recommended that the Texas capital rename seven streets with Confederate-linked names and remove three history markers celebrating the Confederacy. But while Dixie Drive, Confederate Avenue, and Plantation Road may disappear in Austin, the city is unlikely to change its name, as not-quite-proposed in a second list of municipal items not directly tied to the Confederacy but tangentially connected through things like slavery and segregation. On that second list, proposed for discussion by the City Council, was the city's name itself, an homage to the "Father of Texas," Stephen F. Austin.
Austin, who died in 1836, had a complicated relationship with slavery, clearly tolerating it and encouraging retaining slavery for the economic success of Texas but not embracing it ideologically. Still, "no one sees this as an attempt to change the name of the city," David Green, a spokesman for the city, told The Washington Post on Sunday. Changing Austin's name would require a citywide vote, and lots of debate over what appellation would be better — perhaps Waterloo, Austin's name before 1839.
Walter L. Buenger, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, called the idea of changing Austin's name "far-fetched," and Gregg Cantrell, a Stephen Austin biographer and history professor at Texas Christian University, said the proposal wouldn't even make sense. Austin "didn't leave a paper trail" on whether he viewed African Americans as inferior to whites, Cantrell told the Post, but since he died three decades before the Civil War began, he wasn't a seditious figure like the Confederate generals and leaders whose monuments are being removed across the country. "Austin never had to make the choice Robert E. Lee made," Cantrell said. "We can't tar him with that particular brush."