It is not uncommon for streets and highways to be named after prominent members in the community, and that is how Cynthia McKinney Parkway and James E. “Billy” McKinney Highway came to be.
Billy McKinney was a longstanding state representative and his daughter, Cynthia, was believed to be the first black woman ever elected to represent Georgia in the U.S. House. Unfortunately, both also have a troubling history of anti-Semitism.
When Billy McKinney was still serving as a state representative in 2002, he publicly stated that Cynthia’s congressional election was rigged because “Jews have bought everybody. Jews. J-E-W-S.” While his comments likely contributed to him losing his house seat the same year, the James E. “Billy” McKinney Highway was already dedicated to him. It is a part of I-285 that runs between I-20 and I-75.
Cynthia McKinney has also received backlash after her repeated obsession over conspiracy theories. Notably, she called for the impeachment of President George W. Bush after she implied his administration knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks before they occurred. But once again, the Cynthia McKinney Parkway was already dedicated to her prior to her true character showing. The road is part of Memorial Drive, which runs from Stone Mountain to downtown Atlanta.
There was a failed effort made in 2007 to rename both of the roadways following these incidents, but the General Assembly was unable to reach enough votes to remove their names from our city. But while a push to remove their names from Atlanta has stopped, Cynthia McKinney remains controversial.
Since the failed 2007 resolution, she has followed in her father’s footsteps of anti-Semitic behavior by preaching the “Dancing Israelis” conspiracy theory on her Twitter account, which asserts that the Israeli intelligence agency was behind the 9/11 attacks. On top of this, the ADL notes that “McKinney has a history of using anti-Israel rhetoric, including accusing the pro-Israel lobby of sabotaging her political career and alleging that Israel is committing genocide, apartheid and war crimes.”
Even more recently, on May 16, she made it clear on Twitter that she was against the Senate voting to fund a Holocaust education website. A day later, McKinney took to Twitter once again to deny the number of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust, inferring the commonly accepted 6 million figure was overinflated due to it being a Jewish person who first cited it. Overlooking the irony of her proving that Holocaust education must be furthered, her vocal anti-Semitism is troubling.
McKinney’s recent statements should be a clear signal for the Georgia General Assembly to once again vote to remove her father’s name and hers from our city roads. While freedom of speech rightfully exists and the content of one’s Twitter page is up to them, we can and should control whose names bear our streets. As a Jewish Georgian, their statements are incredibly upsetting, and action must be taken.
Despite the blatant anti-Semitic history of the McKinney family, their accomplishments for the black community should not be overlooked. With this in mind, the replacement street names must be carefully thought out to not punish the black community for the McKinney family’s actions. While it does seem only fitting to return Cynthia McKinney Parkway to the original name of Memorial Drive, the recent murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga., should be a call to rename James E. “Billy” McKinney Highway to something to the effect of Ahmaud Arbery Highway. This way, Arbery’s tragic death will never be forgotten.
By rewarding two anti-Semites with roads named after them, Georgia is conveying that anti-Semitic behavior is acceptable when it comes from prominent members of our community. Maybe I am naive, but I do not believe most Georgians or Americans would knowingly praise anti-Semites. Given Cynthia McKinney’s continued history of spewing anti-Semitism, either directly or through anti-Israel activism, how her name has remained on our roads this long is disturbing.
The renaming of Cynthia McKinney Parkway and James E. “Billy” McKinney Highway might be long overdue, but that doesn’t mean it is too late to correct this error. Lawmakers need to say “no” to anti-Semitism and “no” to the McKinney family.
Alex Blecker is a rising sophomore at Oglethorpe University double majoring in economics and political science.