Indians want Jackson's name off U.S. highway

ALMA, N.C. — ALMA, N.C. - To residents of Charlotte, N.C., the signs proclaiming U.S. 74 as the "Andrew Jackson Highway" are just more blurs on the road to the shore.

But to certain residents of southeastern North Carolina, they're an insult, akin to putting Sherman's name on a highway through Atlanta or Adolf Hitler's on the road past the National Holocaust Museum in Washington.


What started several decades ago as a grass-roots push among a few Native American activists has turned into a full-scale drive to remove the seventh president's name from U.S. 74, or at least from the stretch that runs through counties with high concentrations of Native Americans, including Scotland, Robeson and Columbus.

The Indians involved have never gotten this close: Two Eastern North Carolina state legislators and a U.S. House member are pushing the cause, 4,000 people have signed petitions, and local governments have agreed. The North Carolina Board of Transportation will likely consider a request to remove Jackson signs in Robeson County soon.


The effort's leaders would like to see the road renamed the "American Indian Highway."

'No hero to us'

"Most people out there don't know the history, they don't know that the name Andrew Jackson means nothing but misery to Indians," said Robert Chavis, vice chief of the Tuscaroras East of the Mountains, one of four Tuscarora bands in the Robeson County area. "Andrew Jackson is no hero to us. He's like Hitler. He's a killer."

Jackson, a Carolinas native, is remembered in the history books as one of the nation's most charismatic, if not always effective, presidents. The son of Irish immigrants, he was also the first U.S. president born into poverty.

He was the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, the symbolic end of the War of 1812, and is considered the first president to win office with a true appeal to voters, rather than political maneuvering within his party. Historians credit him with grabbing new power for the presidency, thanks to vigorous use of his veto.

Though he had a young Creek Indian ward among the many children he mentored, Jackson also pushed a policy of forced Indian removal. As he made clear in an 1830 speech to Congress, he considered Native Americans uncivilized people and a military threat - a potential ally for French or British invaders. He also thought Indians would be better off separated from whites.

"A speedy removal will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community," he told lawmakers.

"What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic?"


Indian Removal act

Under the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which Jackson lobbied for and signed into law, more than 100,000 Native Americans in what was then considered the Southwestern United States were pushed to the frontier. Thousands of people, many Cherokees from Georgia and western North Carolina, died along the 1,200-mile "Trail of Tears" from the Southeast to Oklahoma.

"Jackson firmly believed the American continent was built by God as a home for white settlers," said Harry Watson, a history professor, Jacksonian scholar and director of the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC Chapel Hill. "The Indians were kind of there to keep the chair warm. I don't know that you can call the motives of his actions genocidal, but there certainly was an element of genocide to what actually happened."

Renaming a road in North Carolina takes about as much work as naming it. First, petitioners must get resolutions by local governments that will be affected. Then their request must go before the state board's naming committee. The Board of Transportation itself has almost unlimited statutory authority to name a road.

The state gets 10 to 12 requests a year to name roads, and honors about a quarter of those. More than 230 roads, bridges and ferries have been named for individuals since 1928. North Carolina Department of Transportation officials say they don't remember a name ever being removed from a road.

U.S. 74 is one of the few North Carolina highways that runs from the mountains to the shore, cutting through the heart of the Piedmont. In Charlotte, U.S. 74 becomes Independence Boulevard, perhaps the Queen City's signature road.


Once out of Charlotte, U.S. 74 passes through the rolling hills of Union and Anson counties, veers south through old railroad towns such as Hamlet and seaward through tobacco and cotton country.

Named in 1963

From Asheville to the beach, U.S. 74 was dubbed the Andrew Jackson Highway in 1963, perhaps as much to needle South Carolina as to honor Old Hickory. Jackson was born somewhere along the North Carolina-South Carolina border near Union County, N.C., and both states claim the log cabin where he was born.

Supporters of a name change, who'll make their case to the state transportation board, would like to see the Jackson title removed from Laurinburg to Wilmington, though their current request to the state board includes just Robeson County. The Robeson commissioners and the Maxton town board support the switch.

Jackson's goal of pushing the Indians west didn't affect eastern North Carolina tribes to any large degree. The Lumbee and Tuscarora, who represent most of the Native American population down east, were neither numerous nor threatening enough to face removal from their land as a direct result of the Indian Removal Act.

But Indians everywhere suffered from the general mood of the country at the time, supporters of the name change say. In 1835, near the end of Jackson's second term, the North Carolina Constitution was amended to bar Indians from voting or owning firearms.


The law stood for close to five decades.

"Years ago, Indians were separated by tribe, we fought each other," said Carnell Locklear, a Tuscarora activist. "But today and really since the time of Andrew Jackson, we've all been united by what some white people try to do with us. We're one people now."