Florida city to say goodbye to streets named for Confederate generals

By Bernie Woodall

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) – Three streets in Hollywood, Florida named for Confederate generals were changed to Freedom, Hope and Liberty, the city’s commission voted on Wednesday.

The commission voted unanimously to change the names from Forrest, Hood and Lee, named for leader of the Confederate army, Robert E. Lee, and fellow generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Bell Hood. Officials did not say when the signs would be switched.

The planned change highlights a persistent debate in the U.S. South over the display of the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the rebel side who fought for the preservation of slavery in the 1861-1865 Civil War.

Several cities including New Orleans, Dallas, St. Louis, and Lexington, Kentucky, have recently removed or relocated statues and memorials.

Such efforts gained momentum after violence at an Aug. 12 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The violent protests over the planned removal of a statue of Lee renewed the national debate over whether the memorials are symbols of heritage or hate.

In Hollywood, about 20 miles (32 km) north of downtown Miami, the issue led to three protests, two in support of the street name changes, and one against. There were several heated city commission meetings, the most recent in late August when the city voted that the streets would be renamed.

On Wednesday, the new names for the streets were finalized.

In August, people who supported keeping the Confederate street names – which date from the 1920s – said they did not think of Confederate generals but rather their own personal histories as they drove, or resided, on them.

Linda Anderson, who asked in June for the city to change the names, said she was part of an unsuccessful effort to rename them 15 years ago. She lives on the newly named Hope Street.

“It’s good to finally remove those names because they were for slavery,” said Anderson in a phone call with Reuters. “I’ll be glad when the new signs go up.”

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Trump releases some JFK files, blocks others under pressure

Trump releases some JFK files, blocks others under pressure

By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered the unveiling of 2,800 documents related to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy but yielded to pressure from the FBI and CIA to block the release of other records to be reviewed further.

Congress had ordered in 1992 that all remaining sealed files pertaining to the investigation into Kennedy’s death should be fully opened to the public through the National Archives in 25 years, by Oct. 26, 2017, except for those the president authorized for further withholding.

Trump had confirmed on Saturday that he would allow for the release of the final batch of once-classified records, amounting to tens of thousands of pages, “subject to the receipt of further information.”

But as the deadline neared, the administration decided at the last minute to stagger the final release over the next 180 days while government agencies studied whether any documents should stay sealed or redacted.

The law allows the president to keep material under wraps if it is determined that harm to intelligence operations, national defense, law enforcement or the conduct of foreign relations would outweigh the public’s interest in full disclosure.

More than 2,800 uncensored documents were posted immediately to the National Archives website on Thursday evening – a staggering, disparate cache that news outlets began poring through seeking new insights into a tragedy that has been endlessly dissected for decades by investigators, scholars and conspiracy theorists.

The rest will be released “on a rolling basis,” with “redactions in only the rarest of circumstances,” by the end of the review on April 26, 2018, the White House said in a statement.

In a memo to government agency heads, Trump said the American people deserved as much access as possible to the records.

“Therefore, I am ordering today that the veil finally be lifted,” he wrote, adding that he had no choice but to accept the requested redactions for now.

A Central Intelligence Agency spokesman told Reuters that every single one of approximately 18,000 remaining CIA records in the collection would ultimately be released, with just 1 percent of the material left redacted.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo was a lead advocate in arguing to the White House for keeping some materials secret, one senior administration official said.

While Kennedy was killed over half a century ago, the document file included material from investigations during the 1970s through the 1990s. Intelligence and law enforcement officials argued their release could thus put at risk some more recent “law enforcement equities” and other materials that still have relevance, the official said.

Trump was resistant but “acceded to it with deep insistence that this stuff is going to be reviewed and released in the next six months,” the official added.

QUELLING CONSPIRACY THEORIES?

Academics who have studied Kennedy’s slaying on Nov. 22, 1963, said they expected nothing in the final batch of files would alter the official conclusion of investigators that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin who fired on the president’s open limousine that day in Dallas from an upper window of the Texas Book Depository building overlooking the motorcade route.

They likewise anticipated that the latest releases would do little to quell long-held conspiracy theories that the 46-year-old Democratic president’s killing was organized by the Mafia, by Cuba, or a cabal of rogue agents.

Of the roughly 5 million pages of JFK assassination-related records held by the National Archives, 88 percent have been available to the public without restriction since the late 1990s, and 11 percent more have been released with sensitive portions redacted. Only about 1 percent have remain withheld in full, according to the National Archives.

Thousands of books, articles, TV shows and films have explored the idea that Kennedy’s assassination was the result of an elaborate conspiracy. None have produced conclusive proof that Oswald, who was fatally shot by a nightclub owner two days after killing Kennedy, worked with anyone else, although they retain a powerful cultural currency.

“My students are really skeptical that Oswald was the lone assassin,” said Patrick Maney, a professor of history at Boston College. “It’s hard to get our minds around this, that someone like a loner, a loser, could on his own have murdered Kennedy and changed the course of world history. But that’s where the evidence is.”

Kennedy’s assassination was the first in a string of politically motivated killings, including those of his brother Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., that stunned the United States during the turbulent 1960s. He remains one of the most admired U.S. presidents.

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington and Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Peter Cooney and Michael Perry)

Final trove of documents to offer new details on JFK assassination

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy arrive at Love Field in Dallas, Texas less than an hour before his assassination in this November 22, 1963 photo by White House photographer Cecil Stoughton obtained from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. JFK Library/The White House/Cecil Stoughton/File Photo via REUTERS

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) – More than half a century after U.S. President John F. Kennedy was struck down by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas, the United States is due on Thursday to release the final files on the investigation into the killing that rattled a nation.

Academics who have studied Kennedy’s slaying on Nov. 22, 1963, said they expected the final batch of files to offer no major new details on why Lee Harvey Oswald gunned down the first and only Irish-American Roman Catholic to hold the office.

They also feared that the final batch of more than 5 million total pages on the Kennedy assassination held in the National Archives will do little to quell long-held conspiracy theories that the 46-year-old president’s killing was organized by the Mafia, by Cuba, or a cabal of rogue agents.

Thousands of books, articles, TV shows and films have explored the idea that Kennedy’s assassination was the result of an elaborate conspiracy. None have produced conclusive proof that Oswald, who was shot dead a day after killing Kennedy, worked with anyone else, though they retain a powerful cultural currency.

“My students are really skeptical that Oswald was the lone assassin,” said Patrick Maney, a professor of history at Boston College. “It’s hard to get our minds around this, that someone like a loner, a loser, could on his own have murdered Kennedy and changed the course of world history. But that’s where the evidence is.”

In 1992, Congress ordered that all records relating to the investigation into Kennedy’s death should be open to the public, and set a final deadline of Oct. 26, 2017 for the entire set to be made public.

President Donald Trump on Saturday confirmed that he would allow the documents to be made public.

The documents to be released on Thursday will likely focus on efforts by the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine what contact Oswald had with spies from Cuba and the former Soviet Union on a trip to Mexico City in September 1963, experts said.

“There was a real concern that Oswald was maybe in league with the Soviet Union,” Maney said.

Kennedy’s assassination was the first in a string of politically motivated killings, including those of his brother Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., that stunned the United States during the turbulent 1960s. He remains one of the most admired U.S. presidents.

(Reporting by Scott Malone)

Kentucky city removes two Confederate statues

Kentucky city removes two Confederate statues

(Reuters) – Statues of two leaders of the Confederacy will be moved from public places in Lexington, Kentucky, to a cemetery where the men they represent are buried, an action that began quietly on Tuesday in the midst of a national debate about memorials to those who fought for the South in the U.S. Civil War.

The city council in August voted to remove the statues of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge, a U.S. vice president and Confederate secretary of war, the Lexington Herald Leader reported, showing video of the removal work that began without advance notice.

The Kentucky vote came soon after a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists angered at the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee clashed with counter-protesters.

The Kentucky statues, which have been in the city for about 130 years, will be taken to a private storage facility as the city works on an arrangement with the Lexington Cemetery about placing them there, it said.

The Lexington mayor’s office was not immediately available for comment.

Breckinridge and Morgan are buried at the cemetery, and private donors are providing funds to pay for the upkeep and security of the statues there, the newspaper reported.

Opponents of Confederate memorials view them as tributes to the South’s slave-holding past, while supporters argue that they represent an important part of history.

Kentucky was a slave-holding state at the time of the Civil War but it did not join the Confederacy.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz)

Charlottesville OKs removal of second Confederate statue

Police officers stand around a statue of Confederate general Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson during a Black Lives Matter rally in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marcus Constantino

By Peter Szekely

(Reuters) – Charlottesville, Virginia, has decided to remove another Confederate general’s statue from a park, a city spokeswoman said on Wednesday, just weeks after a woman died during protests over a decision to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee.

Council members on Tuesday night unanimously ordered a statue of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to be removed from a park in the city’s historic downtown district “as soon as possible,” spokeswoman Miriam Dickler said by phone.

The vote will have no immediate effect. A court has blocked the removal of the Lee statue from another park pending the outcome of a legal challenge that will likely now include the Jackson statue, Dickler said.

An August rally organized by white nationalists to protest the planned removal of the Lee statue turned deadly, when counter-protester Heather Heyer, 32, was killed by a car driven into a crowd.

The violence stemmed from a heated national debate about whether Confederate symbols of the U.S. Civil War represent heritage or hate. In the wake of the rally, other cities have acted to taken down monuments to the Confederacy.

The Dallas City Council voted on Wednesday to remove a statute of Lee from a city park. In Washington, D.C., the National Cathedral’s governing body said it had decided to immediately remove two stained glass windows honoring Lee and Jackson.

Those defending Charlottesville’s Lee statue in court argue that only the state can authorize its removal because it is covered by a Virginia war memorial statute. The city says it is city property and “not actually a war memorial as spelled out in code,” Dickler said.

The resolution passed by the city council on Tuesday calls for the Jackson statue to be removed “in a manner that preserves the integrity of the sculpture” and to be sold or transferred to an entity that preferably would display it in an educational, historic or artistic context.

Both Confederate statues are shrouded in black fabric following a council vote to reflect the city’s mourning after the death of the counter-protester last month.

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer has urged the Virginia legislature to go into special session to let localities decide the fate of the statues.

But Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said that would be redundant because the statue’s fate is already subject to litigation, though he added he hoped the court will rule in the city’s favor.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio)

Florida board votes to scrub Confederate general’s name from school

FILE PHOTO: The statue of Robert E. Lee is seen in Dallas, Texas, U.S. August 19, 2017. REUTERS/Rex Curry/File Photo

By Jim Forsyth

(Reuters) – A city commission in southern Florida on Wednesday voted to remove the names of three Confederate generals from city streets, in response to a community campaign begun months before the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The officials voted 5-1 to drop the names of Forrest, Hood and Lee streets in Hollywood, Florida, located about 20 miles (32 km) north of Miami, the Miami Herald newspaper said.

“This is about what the meaning of community is,” it quoted Mayor Josh Levy as saying. “We don’t endorse hate. We don’t endorse symbols of hate. What hurts you, hurts me. It should hurt all of us.”

Local and state leaders across the country have taken similar action after an Aug. 12 rally in Charlottesville by white nationalists opposed to plans to move a Lee statue turned deadly when a man crashed a car into counter-protesters, killing a woman.

Dozens of citizens and politicians spoke at a marathon city commission meeting in Hollywood, with most backing the change, including Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz.

Those opposed to the name change said they not think of Confederate generals when they drove on the streets, named for Robert E. Lee, leader of the Confederate army and fellow Confederate generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Bell Hood.

Although the city’s review of street names began before the Charlottesville clashes they have imbued it with a fresh significance.

The action came the night after a San Antonio school board voted to change the name of its Robert E. Lee High School, citing the violence in Charlottesville as the impetus.

Tuesday night’s unanimous action was taken by the same board that opted two years ago not to change the 59-year-old high school’s name. Several board members said the nation’s attitude toward symbols of the pro-slavery Confederacy had shifted.

On Wednesday, the chancellor of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill declined a request from a white nationalist group to rent campus space for white nationalist Richard Spencer to speak.

“Our basis for this decision is the safety and security of the campus community,” UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt said in a statement.

Strong sentiment on the subject is highlighted by comments from a Georgia state lawmaker this week, who said people calling for the removal of Confederate monuments could “go missing” in a swamp if they visited the district he represented.

Representative Jason Spencer, who is white, posted the comment during a Facebook exchange with former state Representative LaDawn Jones, who is black, a screen grab on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s website showed.

The comment has been deleted from Spencer’s Facebook page.

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney and Clarence Fernandez)

Georgia unveils statue of civil rights leader King on capitol grounds

Members of Martin Luther King Jr.'s family and Georgia elected leaders stand in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue unveiled in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., August 28, 2017. REUTERS/David Beasley

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Georgia on Monday unveiled a statue of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on the same capitol grounds in Atlanta where statues of segregationists remain.

The new installation comes amid an intensified debate in the United States over Confederate symbols after a woman was killed during an Aug. 12 protest by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, objecting to the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

The bronze King statue should provide a sense of hope, his daughter Bernice King told the several hundred people who attended the unveiling ceremony in the state that was part of the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War.

The event on Monday was timed to coincide with the 54th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech calling for racial justice and equality.

The civil rights leader said it was his dream that the sons of former slaves and former slave owners would one day sit down together in brotherhood.

“Well, the sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners sat down in this state capitol and made the decision to erect the Martin Luther King Jr. monument,” Bernice King said.

King, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was assassinated in 1968, was born a few blocks from the Georgia capitol. Although his portrait is on display inside the building, there had been no monuments to him on the Capitol grounds. The statue faces his birthplace.

The monument to King joins existing statues on capitol grounds of John B. Gordon, a Confederate military general; Joseph Brown, the state’s governor during the Civil War; and past Governor Eugene Talmadge, a staunch segregationist.

Georgia state officials in 2014 announced plans for the King statue a few months after they quietly relocated off capitol grounds a statue of Thomas Watson, a U.S. senator who died in 1922. Watson espoused bigoted attitudes towards African Americans, Catholics, and Jews, according to scholars.

“This day took much too long to get here,” said David Ralston, the Republican speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives. “From those days we can grow and learn.”

(Reporting by David Beasley in Atlanta; Editing by Bernie Woodall, Andrew Hay and Lisa Shumaker)