Pinckney Neighborhood working toward changing name that comes from South Carolina slave owner
photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World
A historic Lawrence neighborhood has begun the process to change its name after it came to light earlier this year that the neighborhood bears the name of a slave owner.
The Pinckney Neighborhood Association, which oversees the central Lawrence neighborhood sitting just north of Sixth Street, announced this week that it has been considering a name change over the last several months and is now taking suggestions for a new name.
PNA President Bart Littlejohn told the Journal-World that the neighborhood began the discussion over the summer and recently came to the conclusion that it was time to change.
“People thought it was something we should go ahead and pursue,” Littlejohn said.
The possible name change could be the first action taken on the matter since a Journal-World reader pointed out that the historic neighborhood bears the name of either Charles Pinckney or Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. The Pinckneys are two cousins from South Carolina who had successful political careers in the late 1700s and early 1800s but who also advocated for America to allow slavery to continue when the U.S. Constitution was ratified.
The neighborhood, which recognizes Charles Cotesworth Pinckney as the namesake, was spurred to consider a name change as a response to civil unrest felt throughout the country this past summer after the death of a Black man, George Floyd, at the hands of Minneapolis, Minn., police. The unrest led to many reexamining the history of racism in the U.S. and whether monuments and buildings bearing the names of those who contributed to it should continue.
“Locally within the Pinckney Neighborhood, that meant addressing the fact that Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was a person that many residents felt uncomfortable honoring — particularly since the neighborhood is a historically Black neighborhood,” the neighborhood said in its announcement.
The neighborhood launched a process to take suggestions for a new name and hopes to being a voting procedure in the spring to choose one, Littlejohn said.
As the Journal-World reported in June, the Pinckney Neighborhood and the nearby elementary school got their names from their proximity to Pinckney Street, which is now known as Sixth Street.
Steve Nowak, executive director for the Watkins Museum of History, previously told the Journal-World that many of the streets in Lawrence at one point were named after early American political leaders but have since been renamed. Pinckney Street was renamed Sixth Street sometime in the early 1900s.
But who was Pinckney? That’s where things get confusing.
While the Journal-World originally reported the street was named for Charles Pinckney — who lived from 1757 to 1824 and served the state of South Carolina as a governor, U.S. representative and senator — readers told the paper it was possible that the street was named for Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who was the other Pinckney’s cousin.
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who lived from 1746 to 1825, also had a career as a South Carolina statesman and was a Revolutionary War veteran, according to the U.S. Army’s history website. He later was nominated by the Federalist Party for vice president in 1800 and for president in 1804 and 1808; he was unsuccessful in all three elections.
Along with their political careers, both Pinckneys served as delegates for South Carolina at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. According to the University of South Carolina, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney agreed to abolish the slave trade, but opposed freeing those who were enslaved. Both Pinckneys signed the constitution on behalf of South Carolina, helping it reach ratification. Slavery continued legally in the U.S. for almost another 100 years.
Nowak, when asked whether the street might have actually been named for Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, said it was possible, but that there wasn’t enough evidence to say.
“There may be no definitive answer,” he said.
But no matter which Pinckney the neighborhood takes its name from, the rationale for the name change remains the same — both Pinckneys were slave owners and advocates for slavery.
Neighborhood name change process
While the Pinckney Neighborhood is recognized by the City of Lawrence in its neighborhood association registration, the city does not consider the renaming process a city government issue.
After the neighborhood established that many residents would prefer changing the name, PNA reached out to the city to understand the rules for a name change. But the city doesn’t really have any.
Danelle Walters, the city’s community development manager, told the Journal-World the city is not active in the naming of neighborhoods and its neighborhood registration mostly exists as an informational page for residents to know how they can contact a neighborhood association. She said she told the PNA to check its own legal documents on changing the name and follow its own bylaws.
“It really is a neighborhood-driven decision, and there is not a requirement to notify the city of their intentions to change their name,” Walters said.
Additionally, the name change of the neighborhood is separate from the school district’s Pinckney Elementary School. In the summer, Superintendent Anthony Lewis said the district planned to hold discussions on the issue in the fall. However, it’s unclear where the district currently is on the issue. District spokeswoman Julie Boyle did not respond to the Journal-World’s request for an update.
Meanwhile, Littlejohn said PNA had not heard much opposition to the name change. Despite other instances throughout the country where people have opposed the removal of monuments and renaming of buildings that honor slave owners or those associated with the Confederacy, Littlejohn said the general consensus from Pinckney residents was that changing the name was a good idea.
He has heard from some residents who think the renaming process is taking too long. But he said the process was intended to be slow and deliberate.
“We want to make sure people have every opportunity to let us know how they feel,” Littlejohn said. “We don’t want to leave anyone out.”
PNA is currently collecting suggestions for the neighborhood’s new name, Littlejohn said.
Those who have a suggestion may submit it online at bit.ly/NewNameIdeas. While anyone can provide a suggestion, Littlejohn said ideas from residents of the neighborhood would be prioritized.
PNA will collect names until Feb. 12, and the neighborhood will subsequently begin a voting process on which one to adopt.
So far, the neighborhood has received more than 20 name suggestions, including one that would allow the neighborhood to basically keep its current name.
Littlejohn said one of the neighborhood residents found some evidence that suggests Pinckney Street was originally intended to be named for William Pinkney, who was also an American statesman who attended the convention to establish the U.S. Constitution but who voted against ratifying it. On its website, PNA says Pinkney also argued against a 1789 law in Maryland that would have barred the freeing of slaves, and his arguments were turned into a pamphlet that later became influential in the abolitionist movement.
The neighborhood is open to other suggestions as well. A few that have been submitted so far include naming the neighborhood after Langston Hughes or after the neighborhood’s general location, with names like Riverfront, Riverside or Riverview.
For more information, visit the neighborhood’s website, pinckneyneighborhood.org/reconsidering-our-neighborhood-name.
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