Agassiz St. Renaming

Agassiz Street sign at the corner of Agassiz Street and Franklin Avenue, Oct. 27.

In a June city council meeting, the city of Flagstaff agreed to begin the process of renaming Agassiz Street. Now, members of the Flagstaff community can vote for a new name until 5 p.m. Nov 3.

Name options range from other historical figures such as Charles Drew Way or Annie Wauneka Way to notable findings and concepts in Flagstaff like Pluto Place or Unity Place. The survey, where individuals can participate, includes a list of 18 possible street names along with a rationale for its name suggestion.  

Name suggestions were vetted by Emergency Services, the Postal Service, the city of Flagstaff and Coconino County, according to city council meeting minutes. Other locations that bear the Agassiz name include Agassiz Peak and Agassiz Lodge and lift at Snowbowl. However, these locations are outside the city's jurisdiction, allowing the city to have authority to only rename the street. 

The city of Flagstaff has stated on its website that it has decided to rename the street “due to Louis Agassiz's history of racism.”

Agassiz was born in Switzerland, moved to America to be a Zoology professor at Harvard University and participated in a fossil study that took place in northern Arizona. He is famous for his work on natural science, specifically on glacier activity and extinct fish.

On top of his scientific research, Louis Agassiz believed in polygenism or the belief that races of people are ranked. According to Harvard's Center for the History of Medicine, Agassiz tried to prove his belief through scientific studies in which he attempted to find more than one origin of humans, which justified racism and slavery because of differences in genetics. 

Freshman Marie Fredenberg has lived in Flagstaff her entire life. While she did not know who Louis Agassiz was, she supported the change in street name because of his background.

“I never had any specific memories on Agassiz Street, but I do feel like it was pretty well known because it is in the downtown area," Fredenberg said. "I think that honoring someone else from Flagstaff’s history would be the best idea.” 

Many places in Flagstaff have recognized the need to move away from the Agassiz name in Flagstaff, even as early as 2015. In 2015 NAU students, according to The Lumberjack, advocated to rename a room in the du Bois Center to the Marshall Room, inspired by Thurgood Marshall, the first Black United States Supreme Court Justice. The city of Flagstaff renamed its City Manager of Excellence Awards in 2019 from the Agassiz Award to the Aspen Award. The Arizona Daily Sun reported this year, Flagstaff High School’s Native American Club began advocating for the change of Agassiz Peak's name to reflect the land's Indigenous origins.