Local News

Some Raleigh residents want white supremacist's name off their street

Posted February 12, 2021 6:37 p.m. EST
Updated February 12, 2021 7:00 p.m. EST

— Thomas Ruffin's portrait has been taken down at the North Carolina Supreme Court, a statue of him has been removed from the state Court of Appeals building and references to him have been scrubbed from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

Now, some residents of a neighborhood in west Raleigh want him gone as well.

Ruffin Street, which is just east of the Meredith College campus, is named for the former state Supreme Court chief justice, a white supremacist who authored an opinion that someone couldn't be held criminally liable for assaulting an enslaved person.

Several other streets in the neighborhood also are named for long-ago state Supreme Court justices: Faircloth, Stacy, Furches, Merrimon, Taylor and Shephard.

"This isn't erasing history. Let's choose another historical name," resident Brent Pitts said. "If we don't know of an evil, then we don't know. But if we do know, isn't it our responsibility to do something about it?"

Pitts went on the neighborhood social networking site Next Door and called for a united effort to change the street name, igniting a debate.

"Maybe a third [of comments were] supportive, 25 percent [were] dismissive and maybe the rest [were] in between," he said.

If enough residents sign a petition, the name-change proposal, the Raleigh City Council could hold a public hearing on the issue and vote on it.

A city spokeswoman said only one official application to change a street name has been filed in the last six months. That one is for Aycock Street in the Five Points neighborhood, which is named for former Gov. Charles Aycock, a former segregationist whose name also was removed from a UNC-Chapel Hill building.

Some residents of Ruffin Street, where Black Lives Matter signs now mix among the magnolias, said the name-change idea isn't worth the effort.

"What he did was horrible, but that was then, and taking the time to do this now is ridiculous," Martha Ellington said.

"One person being upset – or a handful – is not worth changing a street that's been named this since 1929," said her husband, Don Ellington, who's informally known as the "mayor" of the block.

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