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Fitler Groups Push for Taney Street Rename; City Council Hesitates
By James Young
Taney Street, named after the infamous Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney, cuts through Fitler Square west of 26th St.
It also stands as an uncomfortable reminder of America’s history of racism; Taney gave the majority opinion in the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford case, ruling that African Americans were not considered US citizens.
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Though there have been efforts to rename Taney Street for decades, in the past three years a community group called the Rename Taney Coalition has turned up the heat, with a boost from the Fitler Square Neighborhood Association.
The coalition has employed a multifaceted approach, using canvassing, signature collection, surveys, and media outreach in their campaign to persuade the City Council to rename the street.
The most popular proposal for a new name has been LeCount Street, a reference to Caroline LeCount, a Philadelphia civil rights leader who was instrumental in desegregating the city’s public transit system.
“She was Philadelphia’s Rosa Parks,” said Ben Keys, president of the Fitler Square Neighborhood Association. “She was a vocal activist in the 1800s, enthusiastically working to integrate the Philadelphia streetcar system, which at the time were pulled by horses.”
Keys continued: “she’s someone who’s really a forgotten hero for racial equity in Philadelphia and someone who I think Taney residents were very enthusiastic about.”
The coalition has hit numerous roadblocks in their quest to rename the street, the largest of which has been City Council’s hesitancy to introduce official legislation.
Taney crosses three Council districts, meaning that three separate Councilors would need to pass legislation in order to rename the entire 15-block length of the street. These Councilors, Darrell L. Clarke, Kenyatta Johnson, and Curtis Jones, Jr., have all expressed public support for renaming Taney, but none have yet taken action toward it.
According to Samaya Brown, an organizer with the Rename Taney coalition, Council President Clarke has been the “largest holdup” to progress being made. Initially, Clarke requested a petition from the coalition showing that a supermajority of Taney Street residents supported the name change.
Brown stated that when the coalition obtained the signatures and submitted them to City Council, Clarke “moved the goalposts” by asking for signed letters from USPS and PennDOT approving the name change. According to Brown, neither of these organizations is responsible for approving street name changes within Philadelphia, and Council has the sole authority to do so.
Clarke could not be reached for comment.
According to Brown, representatives of the Rename Taney coalition gave a speech during the public comment section of a February City Council meeting. Brown said that Clarke was “very upset by this public confrontation” and would not commit to introducing legislation on the matter.
Kenyatta Johnson's communications director, Vincent Thompson, echoed the Council President’s concerns: according to him, changing a street name can cause issues with mail delivery, driver’s licenses, and property deeds for residents. Thompson also expressed doubt that residents of North Taney Street, which passes through Brewerytown and Strawberry Mansion, were as “enthusiastic” about the name change as those in Fitler Square.
Despite Johnson’s concerns, the Rename Taney Coalition claims that mail delivery and property deeds will not be affected, and residents will not need to update their driver’s licenses until after their current license expires. The coalition also says that mapping services, such as Google Maps, and delivery services like FedEx will automatically be notified of the name change by USPS.
The Road Ahead
Johnson’s media representative suggested that rather than pursuing an official renaming, the Rename Taney Coalition could instead request a ceremonial renaming; the legislative process for this alternative is simpler because unlike an official renaming, the legislation would not need to go through a committee hearing.
In this case, the Taney Street signs would remain, but an additional red sign would be placed underneath with an alternative name, similar to Broad Street’s “Avenue of the Arts” signs.
The final Council session of this year will take place on December 14th, after which a new Council will be sworn in in January 2024.
Clarke announced earlier this year that he will not seek reelection as Council President; both Johnson and Jones have announced their candidacy for the position, as has Councilor Mark Squilla.
If either Johnson or Jones takes the position, the coalition may find it easier to convince Council to introduce a renaming bill, as both Councilors have stated their support for the movement. Until that time, the effort to rename Taney may remain stagnant.
Additional reporting by Jensen Toussaint