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One of Rock Hill's newest streets - Secession Way

Rock Hill has some famous street names.

Dave Lyle Boulevard, named for a former mayor. Cherry Road, named for the former owner of much of the property where the road runs. Black Street, named for one of the city's founding families.

And now, the Rock Hill that loves to annex to grow and get tax money - and uses the threat of water disconnection to do it - the city that has signs that read, "No Room for Racism" on those famous roads, brings you one of its newest streets - Secession Way.

Secession in Webster's dictionary has two meanings.

1) An act of seceding; formal withdrawal or separation.

2) The withdrawal of the Southern states from the federal Union at the start of the Civil War.

That's it.

Secession just means withdrawing in general, or it means the act of defiance over the Southern enslavement of black people and the unwillingness to accept anything else, that led to the bloodiest, deadliest, worst war and time in the history of this state and country.

More than 700,000 soldiers dead - most of them poor whites, and uncountable millions of black slaves. The most famous act of secession in world history tried to ruin America and keep blacks enslaved.


Secession means nothing else. The Southern secession is so commonly known throughout the English-speaking world, it is in the dictionary definition.

Except in the city of Rock Hill, where nobody noticed a Secession Way street sign for the nine months it has been up - and even longer as the street was planned.

Yet Rock Hill has a street called Secession Way - right there where some 20,000 drivers pass each day, at an intersection so prized by Rock Hill that it was annexed into the city.

You can't miss it - or maybe you can. The entire city bureaucracy never noticed.

The Rev. Osbey Roddey, one of two black members of the Rock Hill City Council, said this week he did not know of Secession Way until I told him. Roddey is not pleased with the name, because it has a negative connotation about the secession of the South over slavery - and about the Miller Pond annexation battle across S.C. 161.

Roddey said the city should revisit the name Secession Way.

"We need to look at it," Roddey said. "I understand where you are coming from. People could be offended by the name."

'An inside joke'

The street and sign are right there across busy S.C. 161 - called Old York Road at that point - from the new Walmart that is part of the city of Rock Hill after annexation.

It is directly across from the Miller Pond neighborhood that was threatened by the city of Rock Hill with water disconnection if residents did not give up a fight against annexation.

But somehow - although the street sign has been up since December and is at an intersection that thousands of cars pass every day - city officials say not a single person brought up the name as potentially offensive, or even controversial as it pertains to Southern secession, until I brought it up.

"This is the first I heard about it," said Bill Meyer, the city's planning and development director this week, "except for from Phil Murdock. He called yesterday and said you called him about it."

Phil Murdock Sr. is the developer of the property across S.C. 161 from Walmart. It was annexed in January 2010 as part of the city's move westward. Rock Hill might soon annex Tennessee.

In Rock Hill, like many places, property developers propose street names. People live and have businesses on streets named for favorite daughters or trees all the time.

Murdock made it clear - the name was a jab in the eye at a city and county that he sees as difficult to deal with. The Southern secession was not the reason for the name, he said.

"It was an inside joke," Murdock said. "It had nothing to do with the South. In no way was it meant to offend anyone. It was a poke, a gesture, to let them know that pulling teeth is not the way developers should have to do things.

"The Southern secession - it never crossed my mind."

Murdock is a longtime businessman in York County - an artist, to boot, whose space was vandalized a couple of years ago - and has a reputation as a good guy without a bad word for anyone except a government he is battling.

I take him at his word that the name was a joke on both the city and county that, in his view, make life miserable at times - so he playfully wishes he could secede from both.

I like anybody who pokes fun at bureaucrats - and he said he didn't consider that his choice of words in wanting to secede from the city and county could have a potentially offensive meaning that is linked to Southern secession.

Safety first

York County's 911 communications operations must approve street names, but only for whether it can be pronounced clearly by dispatchers and that there is not another street with a similar name, county officials said.

"We don't look at the street name for any other reason than safety," said Gary Loflin, 911 director for York County. They don't want cops and firefighters to be confused by similar-sounding street names.

The initial street name the city proposed to York County 911 in March 2010 was Murphy Express Lane, Loflin said, but that was changed.

York County road names must be approved by the appointed county Planning Commission and the elected County Council, Loflin said.

No elected official has to approve any street name in Rock Hill.

The street name never came up for discussion among senior city staff or the Rock Hill City Council, said City Manager David Vehaun.

Knowing Murdock's spirited engagement with the city and county over development, Vehaun said, he is certain annexation battles prompted his naming of Secession Way.

Both Meyer, the planning director, and Mayor Doug Echols agreed that the name came from Murdock's joke about dealing with local government.

No one has complained to the city about the name or even brought up the street name in seven months - except for me, Echols said. Further, Echols said, he knows Phil Murdock Sr. and accepts his explanation of the name.

Not 'a good choice'

But even with Murdock's naming of the street being a poke in the eye of people in planning offices, to name a street Secession Way is to say that street name is OK for all of us who drive on Rock Hill city streets every day.

Secession is not OK.

Ask any black person if they think Secession Way is a good name for a street in Rock Hill, where so many blacks have fought for equality.

A city where blacks once had to use separate water fountains and toilets, and bus waiting rooms, and their schools used old textbooks handed down from white schools.

A city where there were all-black neighborhoods because blacks were not allowed by law and custom to live in white neighborhoods.

I asked Susie Hinton, the other black member of the Rock Hill city council and an officer with the Rock Hill NAACP, if she knew that the city where she represents people of all colors has a street called Secession Way.

Hinton said she did not know that.

"This type of thing does not come before us as a council, but I did not know we had such a street," Hinton said. "I need to find out how this happened."

William "Bump" Roddey, the only black York County Council member, was stunned to learn of the name because of the negatives that the word "secession" bring.

"I do not like it," he said. "It doesn't seem a good choice."

Yet the street remains, Secession Way.

'Part of history'

The naming of streets is an administrative decision in the city's planning and development department.

Nobody said a word about Secession Way.

Now a convenience store/gas station, Murphy Express, has an address: 105 Secession Way.

A representative for Arkansas-based Murphy Oil USA Inc. said the company had nothing to do with the street name, and the address did not raise any flags during the store's opening. Understandably, the store was more concerned with opening up and attracting customers.

Meyer, the planning director, defended the way streets are named, saying no one had complained or looked for the most negative connotation of the name Secession Way.

Further, he said, plenty of places in South Carolina have the word "plantation" in their development names because of strong historical references.

"Plantation can have a negative connotation," Meyer said, "but it also has a historical meaning and is part of history."

Yes, I told Meyer, plantations are where blacks were enslaved, and I despise that name on developments, too. There are plenty of good, decent people of any color who would never buy a house in any development called a plantation. Or buy a house on Secession Way.

Some places, Rock Hill and Fort Mill among them, have long-named Confederate Streets, and Confederate Parks. But those streets and parks are old. They are of an old day, named when America had segregation.

A lousy name

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. That anniversary is not celebrated by most people who draw breath and do not have beards dragging on the ground while wearing Confederate re-enactor uniforms.

2011 is also the 50th anniversary of the Friendship Nine. There have been galas and parties and celebrations of the courage of those black men who spent 30 days in jail in 1961 rather than pay a fine for sitting down and asking to be served at a whites-only Rock Hill lunch counter.

Every speaker of every color at every function that honored those men talked about how what happened to those men, and all blacks, was wrong.

Slavery died in an awful war after secession, and segregation died in an awful struggle. It is understood by people with eyes open that both were wrong.

Wrong means that even if the name came from a playful jab at bureaucracies, the street name Secession Way is a lousy name for a street in Rock Hill, S.C., in 2011.

Rock Hill needs to listen to Councilman Osbey Roddey and look at changing the name of that street.

But until then, if somebody wants to name a Rock Hill street "Jefferson Davis Way," for the Confederate president and unapologetic proponent of slavery, or "Stonewall Jackson Boulevard," for the Confederate general, I sure hope that somebody in the city of Rock Hill notices before the street sign goes up.