Phoenix Starts Process To Rename Robert E. Lee Street, Squaw Peak Drive

By Christina Estes
Published: Wednesday, July 1, 2020 - 8:00pm
Updated: Wednesday, July 1, 2020 - 8:21pm

Christina Estes/KJZZ
Squaw Peak Drive was originally named Flynn Lane before it was changed in 1964.

Phoenix leaders unanimously approved starting the process to rename two city streets during Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Mayor Kate Gallego and Councilwoman Thelda Wiliams initiated the request. During the meeting they heard from several people who support renaming Robert E. Lee Street and Squaw Peak Drive

"It is time to change the S-word on the street to match the name of Piestewa Peak," said Patti Hibbeler, CEO of the Phoenix Indian Center.

"The S-word continues to be one that is highly derogatory of a sexual nature towards American Indian women and one that continues to be used as a negative tool, as a weapon, to make us feel less than human."

Squaw Peak Drive is about one mile long and leads to what used to be called Squaw Peak, the second highest peak in the Phoenix Mountains, until then-Governor Janet Napolitano pushed for it to be renamed in honor of Lori Piestewa.

A member of the Hopi tribe, Piestewa, grew up in Tuba City, Arizona. In 2003 she was killed during an ambush in Iraq. The Army said Piestewa was the first American Indian woman to die in combat on foreign soil.

Although the state changed Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak, city officials did not change the street name which runs from Lincoln Drive and 22nd Street to the surface parking lot at the Piestewa Peak Summit Trail. But it hasn’t always been Squaw Peak Drive. According to city records, the original name was Flynn Lane, and it was changed in 1964.

street sign
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Street in north Phoenix was changed to honor Confederate General Robert E. Lee in 1961.

A street in north Phoenix was changed in 1961 during the Civil Rights movement to honor Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  It runs about 5 miles from 40th to 52nd streets and is located in Councilman Jim Waring’s district.

"With that timing and the name it has, I mean it’s just hard to believe that somebody wasn’t trying to send a message and clearly not a positive message, and that offends me greatly" he said. "This isn’t some historic thing, this is a surface street in Phoenix almost a hundred years after the war, and we’re naming it after one of the participants."

The council directed staff to hold two virtual community meetings and support residents and businesses impacted by the process when it comes to things like updating driver’s licenses, passports, and property deeds.  The action came three years after the council voted to give itself the authority to rename streets without residents' approval. 

"I want to thank the Black Lives Matter movement. I think without the work and the action across the country this wouldn’t be happening," said Councilmember Carlos Garcia.

The council will decide no later than Oct. 1 whether to rename the streets. Options include Peak Drive or Piestewa Peak Drive and Freedom Street or Justice Street.