A lady's road by another name
At least one instance of road naming in 19th century Jamaica appears to have had a tinge of racism paved into it. And although one of the public suggestions to address the matter was four years ago, in yet another Black History Month, the issue springs up one more time.
The story is told of Lady Musgrave, wife to Jamaica's governor at the time, Anthony Musgrave, who grew green with envy at the splendour of George Stiebel's Devon House.
According to the website of the popular landmark and tourist attraction, devonhousejamaica.com, George Stiebel was among three wealthy Jamaicans who constructed elaborate homes during the 19th century at the corner of Trafalgar Road and Hope Road, which became known as the Millionaires Corner.
As she took offence at having to drive past Stiebel's house, the current Lady Musgrave Road was laid down to pacify the governor's wife. This allowed her to avoid what Derryck M. Penso, in a letter to the editor on May 9, 2011, called an insult to her dignity.
Penso said the name Lady Musgrave Road is offensive to him, as well as to every other well-thinking Jamaican. He called for the road to be renamed.
"It is not too late for this wrong to be set right. I am calling on the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation to change the name to George Stiebel Way as soon as the signs can be prepared and erected. If such a step cannot be afforded immediately, a temporary change to just 'Musgrave Road' will be acceptable until we can set right in memory of the then racially insulted Mr Stiebel," Penso wrote.
While a name change is possible, there is a procedure which must be followed. Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) Town Clerk Robert Hill explained that there are two major routes by which a roadway can be renamed. In Kingston, two roads, Derrymore Road (renamed Courtney Walsh Drive) and Brentford Road (now Studio One Boulevard) are among those which have had a change of sign.
"Well, first of all, it depends. Residents would set up a petition and write to the KSAC, seeking for that to be done. The site is visited just to verify where they are talking about. Then it goes to the Town Clerk's Department, to the Roads and Traffic Committee for a decision. The decision is, therefore, recommended from them if they are in agreement, and then to the mayor, who recommends that the name be changed," he said.
A road can also be renamed at the central government level. Following the renaming, there is a gazette process.
"We then send it off to the gazette office. Then they can now effect the name change and we will also put in an additional sign. So if it was Brentford Road before, we then put up Studio One Boulevard, for example," Hill explained.
The KSAC can also rename a roadway. However, it has not been done in many years as the corporation believes that citizens should determine a road's name.
According to the town clerk, the time taken to change a road's name depends on how quickly a community initiates the process.
"It ought to show proof that there was consultation at the community monthly meetings level. We sometimes ask for a copy of the minutes to ensure that the governance of the situation was proper, and we use that as part of the submission to our Roads and Traffic Committee," Hill said.
Penso's suggestion did not go without public opposition. In a letter to the editor on Saturday, May 14, 2011, AG Gumbs said:
"Kindly permit me to differ with Derryck Penso's proposal, published in Monday's Gleaner, to have Lady Musgrave Road renamed. The lady's elegant name aptly reflects the stately graciousness of one of Jamaica's most beautiful avenues - as much so today as it has done for generations. Let us leave well enough alone.
"If there was racism in the naming of that road 200 years ago, as Mr Penso claims, it is dead and gone so long ago as to be irrelevant.
"Lady Musgrave Road now belongs to us Jamaicans, as it has since Independence, and not to Lady Musgrave. May she rest in peace...
"Will they want to rename The Gleaner next - or Jamaica?
Reggaeland? Anancy Island? The Busta or Manley Republic?
Let us preserve and enjoy Jamaica, land we love!"