Pine Lake’s dilemma: Two rs or one

Pine Lake residents are wondering whether a street was named for a Ku Klux Klan leader. Photo by Andrew Cauthen.

It all comes down to an r.

In Pine Lake, there is a petition to change the name of a street from Forrest Road to Forest Road.

With two rs, the road could refer to Nathan Bedford Forrest, who served as a Confederate lieutenant general during the Civil War.

After the war, Forrest is “best known as having been a prominent figure in the foundation of the Ku Klux Klan, a group composed of mostly Confederate veterans committed to violent intimidation of Blacks, northerners and Republicans. He was ‘grand wizard’ until he ordered the dissolution of the organization in 1869,” according to a biography by the Civil War Trust.

“There are some people who are sure that it’s named after Nathan Bedford Forrest,” said Pine Lake Mayor Kathie deNobriga. “This is the part of the city—of the county—associated with Stone Mountain and the resurgence of the Klan there. So there’s some reason to believe it could be named after Nathan Bedford Forrest. We don’t know and there’s no way of knowing for sure. Regardless, the residents on the street want to change it.”

In a blog about Pine Lake, former resident Dallas Denny described Forrest as a brilliant military leader with a reputation stained by “what many historians consider a massacre of Black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow, in Tennessee” and “by his role in the formation of the Ku Klux Klan” and killing of Black voters and White Republicans to discourage Blacks from voting and running for office.

A petition is under way in Pine Lake to change the street’s name by dropping an r.

“The city doesn’t have the authority to change a street name,” deNobriga said. “People who live on the street do.”

To be considered by the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, the petition must be signed by more than 50 percent of the residents of the road.

“Whether the original name is a misspelling or a tribute to Nathan Bedford Forrest is and will remain unknown,” the petition states. “We believe the proposed name change will positively impact our city and its reputation as a welcoming community.”

DeNobriga said she supports the petition.

“I think it’s an important symbolic step for them to take, and I support it 100 percent,” she said.

“For many African Americans and their allies, being spelled with two rs does bring up Nathan Bedford Forrest even if that wasn’t the intention.”

Not everyone supports the name change proposal.

There has been some “pushback” in Pine Lake, the mayor said. “It’s very much like the current conversation about the [Confederate] flag.”

Pine Lake Councilman George Chidi also supports changing the name.

“It’s a fascinating and weird problem,” Chidi said. “All the other roads in Pine Lake are named for flowers or trees.

“There’s still an argument about whether that Forrest Road is actually named for Nathan Bedford Forrest or not,” he said. “I’m reasonably certain it is, but no one labeled it as such, so you have to extrapolate about what was known about the community at the time. We know we had some big-name Klansmen living in the town.”

One such person, Chidi said, was James Venable.

From 1963 to 1987, Venable was the imperial wizard of the National Knights of the Klan, which he organized. Venable’s ancestors settled in Stone Mountain, which was the site of a 1915 rally that revived the Klan. Venable, who was the mayor of Stone Mountain Village from 1946 to 1949, used the mountaintop and nearby family land for annual Klan rallies, according to his 1993 obituary in the New York Times.

“There was a racial element living here,” Chidi said. “They’re not here now. They haven’t been here for a long time but we suspect that’s the reason” the road is named Forrest.

“Anything that is associated with racism is not reflective of the community as it stands today,” Chidi said. “This is the least racist place I’ve ever been in my life.”

Chidi said the move to change the street’s name started “more than a year ago, way before the Charleston shooting, way before any of the arguments around the flag.”

“Pine Lake’s got a checkered past when you look at its racial history and its relationship with the community around it,” Chidi said. “That past doesn’t reflect who we are right now.

“Small statements like this…help the city long-term,” he said. “I think it builds our relationship with the community.”

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