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A lady's road by another name - Lady Musgrave renaming suggestion relevant to month

Published:Sunday | February 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Chad Bryan, Staff Reporter

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.

Recent renamings

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!"