Street Name Change Would Honor and Preserve Black History

Walnut Street in Chelsea was once an important part of Black history in Chelsea, a place where many Black families lived, raised families, attended churches, opened small businesses, and tried to make lives for themselves.

But much of that history today is hidden, as what once was Walnut Street is now known as Arlington Street Extension.

But the city could soon address that issue and put a spotlight on Black history by changing the name of Arlington Street Extension to Walnut Street.

Stacey Smith, a fifth generation Chelsea resident and member of Chelsea Black Community, addressed the city council Monday night requesting the city make the street name change back to Walnut Street.

Changing back the street name would help highlight some of the long history of the Black population in the city, Smith said.

“Blacks have been in our community since we settled in 1624,” said Smith. “Our founding father Maverick was one of Massachusetts’ first slaveholders and had folks enslaved here. If you go through the 17th century, you had other families who were also slaveholders.”

Over the years, Walnut Street became a center of Black life, history, and culture in Chelsea, Smith said.

“My father came from 13 children, and his father came from 10 to 12 children,” said Smith. “There are hundreds from my family who can say they originated down in the Walnut Street area.”

The area did not burn in the fire of 1908, Smith said. But after the great fire of 1973, Smith said many of the families were forced to leave the area due to damages or other unknown reasons.

In a letter to the city council, Smith related how her father was saddened that the street he grew up on was no longer known as Walnut Street.

“He reminded me of the times when he used to have to go to his grandparents to cut wood for them or times his father would have gatherings,” Smith wrote. “Block parties, birthday parties, you name it and it happened on Walnut Street.”

Those stories from the family led Smith to do more research on Walnut Street and bring attention to the issue, she said.

“To change the name of the street was a poor choice and we can do better here in Chelsea, Massachusetts for those families,” stated Smith.

Council President Norieliz De Jesus said City Manager Fidel Maltez will be making a recommendation on the proposed name change, and will likely come before the council for a vote at its next meeting.

Former pastor of the People’s A.M.E. Church in Chelsea, Rev. Dr. George Walters-Sleyon, also spoke in favor of the name change back to Walnut Street, as did Chelsea Black Community President Joan Cromwell.

Walters-Sleyon said the change back to the original name would be especially meaningful in the midst of the Chelsea400 celebration, and embody the spirit of unity, collaboration, and togetherness the city is striving for.

“We need to preserve our history, Black history, here in Chelsea, to be recognized, celebrated, and archived in relation to our past centuries of our ancestors gone by and for generations to come,” said Cromwell.

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