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Joseph Lane
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Kshama Sawant voices support for renaming Seattle street named for controversial pro-slavery lawmaker

Oregon's first territorial governor and noted pro-slavery advocate Joseph Lane. (Library of Congress)

Spanning less than a half mile just south of Yesler Terrace in Seattle, South Lane Street seems like an innocuous stretch of road. But as it was recently pointed out on social media, the street is named for Joseph Lane, Oregon’s first territorial governor, and a noted pro-slavery advocate whose support of the Confederacy at the start of the Civil War led to an ignoble end to his political career.

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While a member of the U.S. Senate, Lane won the vice presidential nomination on behalf of the pro-slavery wing of the Southern Democratic Party in 1860, running alongside Kentucky slaveholder John Breckenridge.

The Breckenridge/Lane ticket’s support of slavery scored the duo electoral college wins in every Southern state — in addition to Maryland — but was ultimately defeated by Abraham Lincoln and his running mate, Hannibal Hamlin, by a wide margin.

In the year that followed, Lane voiced adamant support for the South’s secession, later leading to him being denied reelection to the Senate by the Oregon legislature. Lane’s son, John, went on to leave West Point to join the Confederate Army.

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The Seattle street named for Lane was brought to the attention of District 3 Councilmember Kshama Sawant on Thursday by a local historian, who proposed it be renamed for renowned community activist Donnie Chin.

Sawant appeared amenable to that proposal.

“Absolutely, we should rename this street,” she said. “My office is happy to make this happen alongside the community and (District 2 Councilmember Tammy Morales).”

Chin was well-known throughout Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, leading a volunteer first responder group in a neighborhood that had long struggled with slow emergency response times from police and fire services.

Chin was shot and killed in 2015 while patrolling the CID, a murder that remains unsolved to this day. A park that sits on South Lane Street was renamed in his honor in 2016.

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