The first day of February was the official date for the name change of a north-south street that cuts through the Indiana University campus.
To mark the occasion, early on Tuesday afternoon, a gathering about two and a half dozen strong gathered at the southern end of the Bloomington street now known as Eagleson Avenue.
On hand was a mix of city officials and members of the extended Eagleson family, in whose honor the street has been renamed.
The family includes mathematicians, physicists, ministers, and one of the original Tuskegee Airmen.
Speaking for the Eaglesons was Betty Bridgwaters, who led off by noting the afternoon’s sunshine and warmth. The temperature hit 60 F degrees, even as the forecast called for a winter storm to move through the area the following day.
Bridgwaters is the great-granddaughter of Halson Vashon Eagleson, Sr., who was born into slavery, and arrived in Bloomington in the 1880s.
“My great-grandfather moved to Bloomington with intentionality, that his children would be educated,” Bridgwaters said.
She then ticked through some of the degrees that his children had earned at Indiana University, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. About that era, Bridgwaters said, “Folks talk about affirmative action. They talk about financial aid. There was no such thing. That wasn’t happening.”
She continued, “There were no integrated dormitories. All of that came in the late 40s and in the early 50s.” Bridgwater added, “After you received your degree, regardless of how prestigious or highbrow you think you might be, you had to go south to use your education.”
In his remarks on Tuesday, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, said, “Names matter. They are used People will use this name, it will be spoken on lips for generations. So what we call it does matter. And how a city should honor its people, its history, matters.”
The street’s former name was Jordan Avenue, after David Starr Jordan, who was Indiana University’s president from 1885 to 1891. Jordan was a proponent of eugenics, which advocates for the improvement of the human species through selective mating. It was that part of Jordan’s biography that led the IU Board of Trustees in October of 2020 to a decision to remove the name from Jordan Hall, Jordan Avenue Parking Garage, and Jordan River.
A joint IU and city task force worked on the Jordan Avenue renaming from April through July of 2021. A report recommending the renaming of the street to honor the Eaglesons was delivered by the task force in July 2021.
The renaming of the portion of the former Jordan Avenue north of 17th Street will reportedly be the agenda for the IU board of trustees meeting, which was originally scheduled for later this week. But the meeting has been put off due to the forecasted winter storm, and no agenda has yet been posted. The northern reaches of the street are reportedly to be named after David Baker, a distinguished professor of jazz studies at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, who died in 2016.
The new signs for Eagleson Avenue, like all street signs, are made in-house in the sign shop by the streets division of the city of Bloomington’s public works department. The pieces of heavy gauge aluminum from the old signs will be repurposed for places that need new signs due to damage or theft.
A handful of Jordan Avenue signs were stolen in the last few weeks before the name swap, according to streets division staff.
A mailman walking his route in the neighborhood of Eagleson Avenue and Davis Street on Tuesday afternoon told The B Square he’d already delivered some mail marked with the new Eagleson Avenue address.
Photos: Eagleson Avenue celebration Feb. 1, 2022