Missouri residents ask again to rename Old Slave Road

The street in west St. Louis County is situated at the site of two plantations where more than 100 enslaved people lived before the Civil War.

With one of its previous opponents gone and the same sentiment among some determined Wildwood, Missouri residents — that they are sick of waking up in houses located on a street seemingly named for vague area history — the group is once again pushing for the renaming of Old Slave Road.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, even more residents — all seven of the road’s eligible households — united to fight to rename the street Madison Valley. That name would honor Elijah Madison, a man who was enslaved there and joined the Union Army during the Civil War. He returned as a free man and land owner.

Some determined Wildwood, Missouri, residents are once again pushing for the renaming of Old Slave Road, a street in west St. Louis County. (Photo: Screenshot/YouTube.com)

It can’t be said for certain, but Old Slave Road’s current name appears to reflect its past, as it is situated at the site of two plantations where more than 100 people were enslaved before the Civil War. Located in western St. Louis County, it features homes that are 3,000 square feet each, and there’s no visible street name. An unmarked cemetery where many people who were enslaved are buried also exists along the road today.

“We unanimously as residents decided on a new name that would be more inclusionary of who we are and the current times,” said resident Patrick Barnidge, as reported by the Post-Dispatch.

Homeowners’ first effort to rename the road dates back nearly a decade. Back then, descendants of Madison participated in the debate and supported the initiative, but two residents objected to the street name change. 

One of those opponents, Sally Branson, is the widow of architect Charles Branson, the first person to build a home on Old Slave Road in 1979, the year it was redeveloped, according to a Post-Dispatch article from March 2013. While she admitted the name rattled her a bit when she first heard it, she argued that it acknowledges the area’s history, with the existence of the slave cemetery making it even more apparent.

Property records, however, no longer indicate Branson as a resident of Old Slave Road, and this time, residents have more support, including from the Wildwood Historic Preservation Commission. The commission recommended the name change last month, believing it would help conceal the location of the slave cemetery and discourage trespassing and looting.

“Given the property owners’ desire to recognize an individual that is forever linked to this area of the city, this name would be appropriate from a historic perspective,” commission officials said, according to the Post-Dispatch.

A date has not yet been established for the Wildwood City Council to vote on the proposal.

“It’s not welcoming,” resident Karen Fox said of the road name, per the 2013 Post-Dispatch article. “It’s offensive to some people. You know what you get when you say the name? Raised eyebrows. Or silence. Or, ‘Are you kidding me?’ You might not have 10 minutes to explain it.”

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