- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 5, 2005

WHITE SETTLEMENT, Texas — A charter amendment on the ballot in the election this week has folks in this small north Texas community up in arms.

The mayor and City Council, expressing concerns about racism implied by the city’s name, decided to ask voters to change it to West Settlement. The measure is on the ballot Tuesday as one of eight charter changes.

“There’s nothing racist about this town,” Norris Chambers, 88, told The Washington Times on Friday, “but that’s what some feel the name means — and that’s where this movement came from.”

Mr. Chambers runs White Settlement’s museum, which includes artifacts and information about the city of about 15,000. He predicts voters will turn down the proposed name change by a margin of at least 3-to-1.

Almost as soon as the proposal hit print, many citizens protested vigorously. Some said the city’s residents should be proud of the name, adopted in pre-Civil War days as a distinction locating where white pioneers settled in territory already occupied by several Indian tribes.

Others noted that the city, which was incorporated in 1941, has been losing major businesses such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Sam’s Club. They said a name change could not hurt and conceivably could help with public relations.

White Settlement, almost completely flanked by Fort Worth on its west side, peaked in the early 1940s, when the federal government decided to build the B-24 Liberator bomber at Consolidated Aircraft Co. at nearby Tarrant Field (now a U.S. Navy reserve air base).

At the time, land was cheap, and many of those employed at Consolidated (now Lockheed Martin) built homes in White Settlement. Mr. Chambers said he paid $2,200 in 1947 for his home, which is currently on the tax rolls at $94,000, right next door to City Hall.

By the 1950s, the town grew to about 10,000, but it has added only about 5,000 residents in the past half-century. The growth problem was exacerbated by the fact that Fort Worth annexed land in the city, hampering its development.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Thompson said the City Council has been exploring ideas for revitalizing the city for some time, and the idea of the name change evolved from those discussions.

Mr. Thompson said officials often hear from people who are interested in moving to the city but are uncomfortable with the name. He said the city recently hired an economic development consultant, raised building standards and increased code enforcement to become more attractive to prospective residents.

“We’re not pinning our entire economic hopes on the name change,” Mr. Thompson said.

When early balloting ended Friday, more than 1,000 people already had cast their votes. The election for mayor last year drew only 1,082 votes, counting both early voting and Election Day balloting.

City Secretary Deana McMullen said there are 7,800 registered voters, and early balloting indicates what might be the biggest turnout in White Settlement’s history.

“A lot of people are wondering why we should change our name,” said R.D. Smith, a salesman who has lived in White Settlement for 11 years. “What do we have to apologize about? We have other races living in peace and harmony here.”

Mayor James Ouzts has taken much of the heat since the amendment was proposed. He was out of town last week when more than 100 people gathered at a council session, nearly all of them angry about the potential name change. Mr. Ouzts could not be reached for comment.

Some black residents of White Settlement — which is about 85 percent white — said they enjoy living in the city but support the name change.

“It’s clear the name was originally designed to segregate people,” Sophia Gordon said.

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