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Atchison, Kansas replaces controversial street name

“As one of my commissioners says, it doesn’t mean anything to change a street if you don’t change people’s hearts and minds," said Burger.

Posted: Oct 2, 2020 5:12 PM
Updated: Oct 5, 2020 7:54 AM

(ATCHISON, Ks.) Effective October 1st, Atchison's Division Street was renamed Unity Street. A change, city officials and community members said, is an important first step in removing the street's historical racial divide. 

“I mean, it looks great to see that Unity Street sign up there. Why wouldn’t you want unity over division, right?” said Becky Burger, Atchison City Manager. 

The ordinance was adopted by the city commission on July 20th, passing with a 5-0 vote to rename the long standed street. A move community members have been trying for for a long time. 

“It’s been brought up multiple different times and then just kind of died and then Atchison United really ran with it,” said Burger. 

Atchison United first formed after the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, co-founders said they've used the nation's civil unrest as a catalyst to inact change in their own neighborhood. 

"This is something that we could affect here in our community positively," said Sean Crittendon, co-founder of Atchison United, "Our youth here in the community are very passionate and we enlisted them to really help us and get this project through."

Historically, Atchison city officials said Division Street was meant to divide city and county, but for those with rich family ties to the area, it stood as a bookmarked racial divide. 

For residents fighting for this long awaited change, they said the former street name was a symbol of segregation cemented for blocks. 

“There was definitely a racial connotation associated with it. When I moved here in 2012, that’s what I was told. That this was the dividing line between the whites and the blacks,” said Burger. 

For Crittendon who was born and raised in Atchison, he said the street name, “was one of those things where perception becomes reality. My mother actually worked on the north side of Division at the black pool. There was, of course, a white pool, with better resources, better ran.”

While the community has been mostly supportive of the street change, city officials said some members are not. 

“I think for a lot of Atchisonians, the fact that it was Division Street just meant that it was that county city dividing line and no one thought much of it. Regardless of what the intent was of that naming, it definitely feels different for our African American population,” said Burger. 

A street once used to divide, now a road to unity. 

“It’s something to live up to, something to build off of,” said Crittendon. 

Atchison city officials said replacing the street sign doesn't change the past, but hope it is one small step forward in creating a better future for all residents. 

“As one of my commissioners says, it doesn’t mean anything to change a street if you don’t change people’s hearts and minds," said Burger. 

Burger said the city is undecided on what to do with the former Division Street signs. 

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