A pair of Tennessee Republican lawmakers stirred a hornet’s nest recently by sponsoring a bill to rename a portion of John Lewis Way in downtown Nashville to honor former President Donald Trump.
State Rep. Paul Sherrell of Sparta and state Sen. Frank Nicely of Strawberry Plains introduced the bill to make part of the thoroughfare President Donald Trump Boulevard.
The Metro Nashville Council voted in 2020 to rename the street, which was then known as Fifth Avenue. Their action was to honor the late civil rights activist and longtime congressional Democrat who rose to fame in the early days of the civil rights movement.
At that time city leaders said that changing Fifth Avenue’s name marked a “fitting tribute to Rep. Lewis and a great day for Nashville in honoring his life and legacy.”
Lewis had roots in the city, having been a student at Fisk University and the American Baptist Theological Seminary. It was there that he organized some of the first lunch counter sit-ins that ultimately led to desegregation.
HB 1372 would remove that honor from a section of the roadway that runs adjacent to Capitol Hill. The Senate version was introduced on the first day of Black History Month.
Tennessee GOP lawmakers are sponsoring a bill to rename a portion of Rep. John Lewis Way in downtown Nashville after Donald Trump. https://t.co/BnfJ21SfIO
— Eugene Scott (@Eugene_Scott) February 3, 2023
There was an immediate outcry from among the state’s Democrats. Councilwoman Zulfat Suara tweeted, “I have to take a deep breath so as not to swear! What (has) this state become!” She slammed the proposed measure and pledged a fight.
The fight over naming Nashville streets did not begin with the latest proposal. In 2018 the city changed a portion of Charlotte Avenue to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which gave the state Capitol an MLK address.
In 2021, state lawmakers renamed Nashville streets to honor former Republican President Ronald Reagan and former Republican Gov. Lamar Alexander. That move made the addresses of several Metro offices President Ronald Reagan Way.
The bill introduced by Sherrell and Niceley also would remove streets from the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act. That statute protects historic monuments located on public property and creates barriers to changing long-standing names and sites.