Bloomington street sheds eugenicist’s name on unanimous plan commission vote, will now be called Eagleson Avenue

The north-south street that cuts through the Indiana University campus in Bloomington will no longer be named after David Starr Jordan, the school’s president from 1885 to 1891.

Jordan was a proponent of eugenics, which advocates for the improvement of the human species through selective mating.

On a unanimous vote taken Monday night, the city’s plan commission changed the name of the street from Jordan Avenue to Eagleson Avenue—for the portion of the road that runs from Davis Street to 17th Street.

The name change does not take effect for another four and a half months. It’s not effective until Feb. 1, 2022.

The street is being renamed for four-generations of the Eagleson family, starting with Halson Vashon Eagleson who was born a slave in 1851.

According to a mayoral-appointed task force report, Halson Eagleson arrived in Bloomington in the 1880s and became a prominent barber. His five children attended Indiana University. The report describes how in 1910, he opened Industrial City, a home for “colored” orphans in Unionville.

A  little less than a year ago, in October 2020, the IU Board of Trustees voted to remove the name Jordan from Jordan Hall, Jordan Avenue Parking Garage, and Jordan River.

To make its recommendation, a joint IU and city task force worked on the Jordan Avenue renaming from April through July of 2021.

Despite the unanimous vote, the renaming of the street was not an easy decision for some of the Bloomington plan commissioners.

Commissioner Chris Cockerham described growing up living on Jordan Avenue, where he still lives. “I grew up on Jordan Avenue, and I’m still very proud to live in a house [on] South Jordan—delivered papers in that area. So I know this neighborhood very, very well.” Cockerham said, “So when I first heard of this, it bothered me—I was a little challenged with it.”

Cockerham said he’d never really considered the significance of the name. “It was just a name. It was a street in the neighborhood, which I loved,” Cockerham said.

Cockerham echoed some of the sentiments of a neighbor, Suzann Owen, who spoke during comment time. Owen told the plan commission she’d lived on South Jordan for 53 years, and as an undergrad for four additional years.

About street names, Owen said, “They simply are thought of as streets, years after, unless they are named for a full name, like Pete Ellis Drive or Mel Currie Road. Jordan Avenue lost its front name many years ago. Many residents do not even know the name of the origin, because it is so common,” Owen said.

About the idea that the renaming will be an inconvenience, Owen said it’s more than that. It will cause confusion in the general public, she said, for those who don’t read the local paper, and are unaware that a new name has been proposed.

Out-of-town visitors who are unaware that the street has a new name will be confused, if they are looking for the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center, the IU Theatre, the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, and the IU library—all of which have Jordan Avenue addresses, Owen said.

In support of keeping the street’s name, Owen said many people who have made important contributions to society have carried the Jordan name, including the basketball star Michael Jordan, and Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan. According to Owen, Indiana University has 44 staff and faculty on the Bloomington campus with the family name of Jordan. “They are proud to have their own street name,” Owen said.

Plan commissioners were concerned with the practical challenges to be faced by residents who have Jordan Avenue addresses. Those residents will receive a letter from the city notifying them about their change of address.

Mike Stewart, who is a planning technician and address coordinator with Bloomington’s engineering department, told commissioners that he will be notifying several entities including: the US Postal Service, 911 dispatch, all of the emergency services, and various utilities.

Most private entities, Stewart said, such as banks and insurance companies, will pull their list from USPS. That means when USPS updates its list, and any private entity pulls information from the list, everything should be updated, Stewart said.

A couple of plan commissioners were unsettled by the idea of naming a street after any person.

Commissioner Flavia Burrell said, “When we honor people, it comes with warts and all. It would be easier to call it Elm Heights Road—and it would remain the same forever—than honor humans, because we’re fallible.” Burrell added, “I am not defending in any way shape or form the actions of Mr. Jordan, which I didn’t know until I received the report.”

Burrell wrapped up by saying, “I am having a hard time with this one. Because if you vote no, you represent one way. If you vote yes, you represent the other way. So I do feel trapped.”

Plan commission president Brad Wisler picked up on the idea of naming streets after people. “I think generally speaking, that naming streets for humans is problematic.” He continued, “We’re all flawed. …None of us are perfect. And we tend not to stand the test of time very well. Certainly David Starr Jordan, is, you know, among the worst.”

Wisler called the renaming of the street from Jordan Avenue to Eagleson Avenue “an appropriate step.” He added, “But I do think going forward—and I’ve thought this since the beginning of this process—that replacing one human name with another human name is a risky approach.”

According to the task force report, in addition to names of people, the group considered names of plants, animals, and landmarks associated with Monroe County, the state, and the university, and as well as conceptual names reflecting community values and principles.

Even though Cockerham called the renaming decision tough, he said he was influenced by the membership of the task force, which included: Elizabeth Mitchell (journalist and historian of Bloomington’s African-American); Alex Tanford (professor emeritus, IU Maurer School of Law); Cedric Harris (director of bias response for IU’s division of student affairs); Tim Mayer (former member of Bloomington’s city council); Tom Morrison (IU vice president for capital planning and facilities); Glenda Murray (Monroe County historian); and James Wimbush (IU vice president for diversity, equity and multicultural affairs).

Cockerham said, “I saw the people that were making those decisions, that were on those committees, and I know many of them and respect them to death and understand their motives. I felt it was well researched.” He concluded, “As much as I don’t like changing the name of Jordan, it’s really hard for me not to support it.”

Other commissioners who had some reservations wound up agreeing with their colleague, Jillian Kinzie, who said, “I think that of all the things that happen in this community, this just speaks to me of such a right thing to do. I realize there’s a burden to residents, but I really hope that they will get behind the fact that this is the right thing to do.”

The northern portion of Jordan Avenue, north of 17th Street, was recommended by the task force to be renamed as Fuller Lane, in honor of Mattie Jacobs Fuller (1856-1940). According to the task force report, Fuller was born a slave in Kentucky. She came to Bloomington at age four and remained a lifelong resident of the city.

That section of the street is owned by Indiana University. So the decision on renaming Jordan Avenue to Fuller Lane for that portion of the roadway is in the bailiwick of the university.