Now is the time to rename the Major Charles Carroll Plaza the Captain Charles Price Plaza

Now is the time to rename the Major Charles Carroll Plaza the Captain Charles Price Plaza

[View of the Major Charles Carroll Plaza from the west side of the Genesee River. Photo: David Kramer 6/6/21]

As discussed in Now that the Nathaniel Rochester Community School is changing its name, the John James Audubon School needs to be considered., a significant decision to change the name of the Nathaniel Rochester Community School is being finalized this month

In a June 22nd front page Democrat and Chronicle article, “RCSD looks to rename Nathaniel Rochester Middle School 3; suggestions solicited”, Justin Murphy reports that the Rochester City School District is soliciting new names for the Nathaniel Rochester Middle School Number 3, a response to student and faculty concerns about honoring the city founder given his extensive participation in the trade of enslaved people.

Murphy notes that students and faculty members have been calling for a name change for several years. “The community, parents, students and teachers are trying to change the name of the school to anything but that,” one school counselor told the school board in 2020. “They all believe that the name Nathaniel Rochester … needs to go.”

Murphy also notes that many buildings and places remain that memorialize those who owned people in slaveryThey include RCSD’s Charles Carroll School 46 and the Major Charles Carroll Park in downtown Rochester, as well as Nathaniel Square Park on South Avenue and Rochester Institute of Technology’s Nathaniel Rochester Hall. Even more so than Nathaniel Rochester, the Carroll family of Maryland derived immense wealth from slaveholding.

Currently, Rochester is in the midst of the Charles Carroll Plaza revitalization project on the Genesee Riverway where slow but sure progress is being made on renovating the Sister Cities Bridge and refurbishing the Greenway Trail. Right now, the Plaza is closed to the public.

(top) placards in the Charles Carroll Plaza, Photos: David Kramer 6/6/21;  (bottom left) the Charles Carroll Plaza in 1987 from Eliminating a Founder: the Origin of State Street; (bottom right) the Sister Cities Bridge under construction;

As seen in NRCS decision, a clear community interest exists for revisiting local names that memorialize those who engaged in slavery, including Carroll. Before the Plaza re-opens, now is an appropriate moment for the City Council to discuss and perhaps change the name of the Plaza.

I support such a public discussion. My own suggestion for a new name is the Captain Charles Price Plaza. As seen in Democrat and Chronicle prints “Pioneer for Black police officers guarded King one night in 1958” and much more on Captain Charles Price (1923 — 2021), we recently lost Captain Charles Price who contributed so much to Rochester. Certainly, Price deserves honoring, and the Plaza when re-opened is an ideal, high profile location for such an honor.

History of the Major Charles Carroll Plaza

In 1973, Father Robert F.  McNamara of the Diocese of Rochester was the preeminent historian of the Catholic community of Rochester and had written about Carroll. Although Carroll’s role was rather obscure, McNamara knew that Carroll was a trustee for the first Catholic Church in upstate New York, located in Geneseo. Wanting to honor Carroll, McNamara urged the City Council and Mayor Stephen May to rename the Crossroads Plaza West, the Major Charles Carroll Plaza.

Courier-Journal, June 13, 1973

At that time, the decision was without controversy and no mention was made of Carroll’s slave owning.

Democrat and Chronicle, Jan 06, 1991 Pictured here in 1961, diocesan historian and teacher, the Rev. Robert F. McNamara is looking at slides with the help of a projector.

Seven years later in 1980, McNamara wrote what is considered the definitive monograph on Carroll, Charles Carroll of Bell Vue Co-founder of Rochester (Rochester History, Vol. XLII, October 1980, No. 4). The essay is probably the first publicly documented account of the slaveholding of Charles Carroll.

McNamara provides telling details. For example, the Hagerstown, Maryland 1803-1804 tax roll lists 28 slaves among Carroll’s taxable possessions. Furthermore, when living in the Genesee Country, Carroll brought his slaves with him from Maryland. In 1799, New York State had passed a law providing for the gradual abolition of slavery. Carroll never manumitted his slaves. Actually, he acquired more. When Carroll left the Genesee County for good in 1815, he put his slaves on the market, advertising “about FORTY VALUABLE NEGROES, among whom are some excellent house servants, good wagoners, prime farm hands, & a good carpenter, suffice it to say there are few such Slaves at Market.”

Nonetheless, the issue of Carroll’s relationship to chattel slavery seems to be of limited interest to McNamara. A “Control F” search of Charles Carroll of Bell Vue Co-founder of Rochester reveals that “slave” and “slavery” are mentioned only seven times.

Two years after the monograph, in 1982, the Monroe County Division No. 7 Ancient Order of Hibernians in America  added a plaque to the Plaza. At the dedication, McNamara gave a brief talk.

In A.D. 1982, this tablet was installed in Major Charles Carroll Plaza. The black and silver plaque reads: Charles Carroll Farmer ◊ Patriot ◊ Pioneer. With Nathaniel Rochester and William Fitzhugh, co-founder of Rochester A.D. 1811 [Photo: David Kramer 6/7/21]

When it comes to the plaque, I think McNamara as a scholar acted in bad faith. Only two years earlier, if somewhat haltingly, McNamara had brought to public light Carroll’s slave holding.

To me, the key word on the plaque is Patriot. It’s hard for me to see a man so enriched by the ownership of other human beings as an American Patriot. We don’t know McNamara’s role in creating the plaque, but he should not have approved the wording.

Courier-Journal, October 20th, 1982

All this said, any decision to change the name of the Plaza is not completely clear cut. Carroll’s role as a trustee for the first Catholic Church in upstate New York is laudable. At the same time, we view the legacy of slavery differently today than in 1973 when the Plaza was named and in 1982 when the misguided plaque was dedicated. Today — as seen in the case of the NRCS — we often think slave owning is a disqualifying factor in public namings.

Any renaming by the City Council should be done now before the Plaza reopens. I ask the Council to consider the matter.

Photos: David Kramer 6/6/21

Photos: David Kramer 6/6/21

The steel shapes on the Plaza. (left) David Kramer 6/6/21; (right) from a 17 Oct 1986 Democrat and Chronicle article:  Colossally yours Seven steel shapes weighing a total of 16 tons are a 150th birthday present to Rochester. Designed by Rhode Island artist Richard Fleischner and commissioned by Rochester ‘-THIS Sesquicentennial Inc., the $100,000 environmental sculpture was dedicated yesterday at Major Charles Carroll Plaza. It will eventually adorn Genesee Crossroads Park.


At the park across from the Plaza, John (left) was the most enthusiastic about a name change. As he said, time for a new bridge and a new name. Unc (center) didn’t think a name change will change anything, but was open to the idea, saying it couldn’t do any harm. The man on the right was mostly against the change. He didn’t know anything about Carroll, but thought he must have done some good things to be originally honored.

PLEASE LEAVE COMMENTS IN THE COMMENT SECTION BELOW AT END

SEE ALSO 

Democrat and Chronicle prints “Pioneer for Black police officers guarded King one night in 1958” and much more on Captain Charles Price (1923 – 2021)

Now that the Nathaniel Rochester Community School is changing its name, the John James Audubon School needs to be considered.

Should the RCSD change the names of some schools? The Alexander von Humboldt Academy instead of the Henry Hudson School?

Should the Rochester Police Locust Club and the Irondequoit Police Night Stick Club consider a name change?

About The Author

dkramer3@naz.edu

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, and the CITY.  My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.

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