Photo: Douglas Sacha via Getty Images
  /  02.21.2023

City council members in Tempe, Arizona are preparing to vote next month on a growing push to rectify sins of the past. A number of streets and parks in the Phoenix-area community are named after Ku Klux Klan members who lived there. But thanks to a movement started by a local resident, those places with KKK-linked histories may end up referencing Black and Latino trailblazers instead. 

The Associated Press reported that documents released by the city detail how an Arizona chapter of the KKK called Butte Klan No. 3 welcomed recognizable Tempe personalities such as mayors, council members, and bankers to its ranks in the 1920s. Elementary schools and public pools were segregated at the time, and these KKK members were honored with their names being brandished on street signs throughout the municipality. 

In 2021, Tempe native Drew Sullivan launched an initiative to shine a light on the dark story of the KKK in the area. He worked the Arizona Historical Society and Tempe History Museum to put together research on the KKK’s long history in Maricopa County, compiling records from the Phoenix Public Library to connect the dots.

Tempe City Council made it a part of their agenda and has been marching toward eliminating monikers in public with Klan ties. The governing body will vote on the renaming committee’s recommendations when it convenes for its March 2 meeting. The officials will then review proposed titles submitted by community members and vetted by council-appointed volunteers. 

The list of potential replacements includes civil rights activists, the first Black landowners in what is now Tempe, and married pioneers Adolfo Romo and Joaquina Jones, who successfully fought in court for their kidsb to attend school with white children in 1925, helping pave the way for desegregation in the United States. 

For Tempeans, the move to rebrand these public spaces is more than just a hollow gesture. It represents the righting of century-old wrongs. “This is really touching to me because I’ve had people [in my family] who have died by hanging by the Ku Klux Klan, so I understand what this means emotionally,” Berdetta Hodge, the first Black woman to sit on the city council, told The Arizona RepublicThe Tempe Elementary School District has already made progress in this arena by renaming three of its schools last year. 



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