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.
For years, some Philadelphians have been trying to change the name of Taney Street, based on the erroneous assumption that Taney Street was named for the Chief Justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision. In fact, there is no evidence that the street was named for Roger Taney. Over the last few years, an urban legend has arisen imagining this origin, but there is nothing to support it. No one has come up with any affirmative evidence to support this claim.
It is true that the street was named in the year after the Dred Scott decision was issued, but that coincidence is hardly proof. The city was divided in its opinions on the Dred Scott decision, with a few business interests supporting it, but others vociferously denouncing it. Indeed, historian William Dusinberre, in his history of Civil War issues in Philadelphia, says that the decision "did not immediately cause an outburst of public discussion in Philadelphia," and that most newspapers avoided the topic entirely. In light of the city's divided response to the decision, it is extremely unlikely that City Councils or the Mayor would go to the trouble of renaming a street to honor Roger Taney.
I don't particularly care whether the name of Taney Street is changed now or not, though it would be nice to have a street named for Caroline LeCount. But it's simply wrong to characterize this movement as an undoing of an honor given to the despicable Chief Justice Taney.
I agree with Frank Hoeber's comment below. I once tried to find the reason the name of Willow Street was changed to Naudain Street. I could find nothing that said why. It seemed a lot of Philadelphia streets got renamed in the 1850s. I find it odd that Philadelphia would rename a street after a Supreme Court justice who was born and grew up in Maryland. Can someone point to the document that says that this street was named after Roger Taney (and not someone else)? Maybe I am odd to want historical accuracy but today it seems people say something that is not correct and it gets repeated and people think it is true.
I too think it would be fine to name a street after Caroline LeCount who certainly deserves it. Maybe we should rename Washington Avenue (which was named after a wealthy slave owner) Le Count Avenue.