In a unanimous vote, the City of Coral Gables Commission approved the renaming of US1 as Harriet Tubman Highway.
The item, sponsored by Mayor Vince Lago and Commissioner Rhonda Anderson, was the last step in the formal renaming of the roadway from Dixie Highway throughout Miami-Dade County. The other 9 municipalities that the roadway crosses, as well as Miami-Dade County, had already approved the name change, which could not become official until Coral Gables approved it.
Assistant City Attorney Naomi Levi Garcia explained to the Commission that the County was ready to make the changes and only needed the City Commission’s approval in order to formally reveal the new signage. “From what I understand, the signs may already be installed, so it’s just a matter of unveiling the signs in compliance with state statute and the designation would take effect, I believe, as soon as this resolution is effective,” stated Levi Garcia.
Lago explained that the change will bring no financial costs to the City.
“What we are doing here is honoring somebody who has had significant impact upon the history of our country. For those of us who have studied history…we know that Harriet Tubman was a brave and courageous individual in working with the underground railroad and bringing people to freedom, that were otherwise in slavery. And our City, along with the other cities, should be honored to be able to recognize her impact upon the lives of so many people,” said Commissioner Anderson.
Both Lago and Vice Mayor Michael Mena echoed Anderson’s comments, but also cautioned that this step was not to be seen as an upcoming change to other streets or names within the City. Both spoke about their disappointment in the University of Miami’s decision to rename the George Merrick structure, explaining that had it not been for Merrick, the University and the City of Coral Gables would not exist. They made it clear that this is an isolated case where it is an honorary designation for Tubman.
Commissioner Jorge L. Fors, Jr. also spoke in favor of the designation. “You step back and analyzing, you zoom out on the Georgia Merrick comparison. Between George Merrick and this honorable designation for somebody nobody will dispute was an American hero of you simply cannot compare. That’s what I think this is for me and its opportunity to designate an honor to American hero Harriet Tubman and Dixie at the end of the day is not a segment, [its a] geographic reference and not a person. I think it requires more critical analysis of your removing a person’s name from something,” stated Fors.
Commissioner Kirk Menendez also stated that, “the last couple years, unfortunately, local communities have been swept away in national politics. Regardless of what side you are in the national debate, and at the end of the day we’re a community, this is a community decision based on our community’s history and what’s best for our community and I hope, going forward, we can sort of isolate ourselves or build walls. Unfortunately, half of these were walls not allowing that a toxic environment to taint our ability to govern our ability to make rational decisions and our ability to do what’s right.”