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When Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago voted against renaming a portion of Dixie Highway after abolitionist Harriet Tubman in January, he called the proposal “a pure example of playing politics.”
The proposal was rejected by the City Commission, making the City Beautiful the only local government in Miami-Dade County to reject adding Tubman’s name to 42 miles of U.S. 1, a federal and state road also called Dixie Highway — a name linked with the Confederacy.
Now Lago is asking the commission to reconsider its vote. He and newly elected Commissioner Rhonda Anderson are the sponsors of a resolution that will be heard on May 25 supporting the designation of the “Harriet Tubman Highway.” The original resolution was sponsored by former Commissioner Pat Keon, who lost a bitter mayoral race against Lago.
A lot has changed in Coral Gables since that initial January vote.
Lago won the mayoral election in April in the midst of controversy over his signing a letter opposing an anti-racism program in the private school his children attend. That prompted the Herald’s Editorial Board to withdraw our recommendation of him. A reckoning over Gables founder George Merrick’s segregationist proposal in the 1930s prompted the University of Miami to remove his name from a parking structure this month.
Some may call Lago’s reversal on this issue another “pure example of playing politics,” a capitulation to cancel culture. We hope that it’s not just performance art on the part of the mayor, where, should the proposal go down in flames again because he really didn’t push for it, he can say, “At least I tried.”
We will take his new posture as a sign the young mayor is willing to listen and working to show Coral Gables is sensitive to social-justice issues, after all. He based his campaign on his open-door policy and he’s been on a listening tour. After withdrawing our recommendation, we called on him to back the renaming of Dixie Highway. If we are quick to criticize, we should also acknowledge progress.
Swapping “Harriet Tubman” for “Dixie” on U.S. 1 itself requires legislative approval and a state process that could take years.
When Lago voted against the renaming in January, he said the city instead should be “concentrating on issues that are affecting (the Black) community on a day-to-day basis.” He’s right. Renaming a road after a former slave who led many enslaved people to freedom is an important symbolic gesture, but the real, and tough work, still needs to be done.