Can we take the road not taken, giving it a nobler name?

Tuning in to Friday’s 5 p.m. local news in anticipation of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners’ decision on whether to rename Dead Indian Memorial Road, I was stunned to learn that the board abruptly chose to decide not to decide. In other words, the commissioners opted to avoid the issue, applying the political escape tactic known as "kicking the can down the road." In this case, literally.

The shock I initially felt turned to sadness, then frustration, then anger. I was offended by the refusal of the commissioners to accept their responsibility, which in this case, I hoped, would be to do the noble thing: to change the ugly and degrading name of the highway called “Dead Indian Memorial Road.” Yet they did not. They did nothing. And the reason they gave for their inaction was that residents along the road were evenly divided about changing or retaining the present name. In other words, they used this as an excuse to table the matter rather than provide enlightened leadership and direction.

Personally, I see the board's reluctance to intervene as a cop-out. For the issue is not just a voting matter for local citizens who happen to live on the road, but a larger issue of cultural sensitivity, justice and equality. In other words, a willingness to do the right thing, the decent thing — in the same way that events in Charlottesville, Virginia, triggered cities and states to take down Civil War monuments that continued to honor Confederate soldiers who fought for the right to retain slavery. After all, taking down such monuments was not only a long-overdue gesture to redress their offensiveness to generations of black people, but to all of us and to nobler principles enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

In this light, I suggest we ask ourselves the following questions: Would we accept a highway called “Dead White Man Memorial Road”? Or “Dead Italian Memorial Road”? Or ”Dead Christian Memorial Road”? Or (fill in your own ethnic/cultural heritage).

From this more personal perspective, consider how we have treated Native Americans since colonizing America: We disenfranchised them from their homelands, massacring countless numbers in the process. Then we penned the survivors on reservations, forcing them in many cases on long marches to distant regions where many perished en route. And then, in an attempt to “civilize” them, we systematically enforced the suppression of their cultural practices, their native languages and lifestyles, their sacred beliefs and world-views.

All of which, I believe, lives on in the degrading symbol of “Dead Indian Memorial Road” and our unwillingness to make the respectful gesture of renaming that road with something more noble and dignified. For if we are willing to make this healing gesture, I trust this road will lead us all to a better place within and without.

— Alan Sasha Lithman lives in Ashland.


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