It’s wearying pointing out every obvious thing on a daily basis, but people, thank God, still try. Consider these Girl Scouts in Georgia, who are campaigning on a simple message—maybe we shouldn’t name our bridges for notorious racists.
The racist in question is Eugene Talmadge, who was governor of Georgia from for three terms in the 1930s and 1940s and has a massive bridge leading into Savannah, Georgia named after him. Talmadge was well-known, according to his Wikipedia page, for “advocating for racism.” (“But that’s just Wikipedia,” you cry. Let’s cut to the local CBS affiliate WTOC: “The bridge is currently named for three-time Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge, who is known for opposing social and political equality for everyone.” Oh.)
Efforts to rename the bridge have stopped and started over the years, but a new effort led by Girl Scouts to name the bridge for Girl Scouts founder and Savannah native Juliette Gordon Low is gaining traction. Hundreds of Girl Scouts met with lawmakers on Tuesday to advocate for the renaming, WTOC reports.
“Girl Scouts everywhere have been influenced so immensely by the work of Juliette Gordon Low over the past almost 106 years,” said Tara Nobles, director of community engagement for Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia. “We have 59 million alumni. That’s an amazing amount of women who have been affected by her work, and we feel so passionately about what she’s done for all of us. So our girls, who are right in the thick of their program right now, in middle [and] high school are up there to tell everyone about what she has done and what her work has done for them and how it’s changed their lives.”
I suppose it’s a little rude to point out that Low herself was no hero when it came to fighting racism, though, as WTOC reports, the organization she founded did desegregate well before they had to.
By the 1950s, prior to civil rights legislation, Girl Scouts USA began a national effort to desegregate all Girl Scout troops. Nobles said most areas already had African-American Girl Scouts by then, but troops were often segregated.
A 1952 issue of Ebony magazine reported that “Girl Scouts in the South are making steady progress toward breaking down racial taboos,” and in 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described Girl Scouts as “a force for desegregation.”
The bridge is part of U.S. Route 17, which runs along the Eastern seaboard. Its current iteration was completed in 1991, replacing an older bridge that was formally named for Talmadge in the ‘50s. In an odd twist, according to The New York Times, lawyers can’t find proof that the rebuilt bridge was formally named for Talmadge at all; the name seems to have just carried over, a fact that may make it easier for lawmakers to rename it, since they’ll actually just be naming it for the first time.
And that, [Republican state representative Ron Stephens] said, could create the opening for state lawmakers to give the bridge a new name, unburdened by having to formally remove the old one.
“For whatever reason, there is a huge resistance for us to start doing that, and making those changes at a later time,” said Mr. Stephens, who has sat in the Legislature through years of arguments over the Confederate symbols on the state flag.
I will be less coy than The New York Times or Stephens: The reason is racism. Aside from that, though, the official Jalopnik position on the matter is a simple one: Let’s stop naming bridges after people altogether.