Excerpts of the Minutes from the June 14, 2004 Business Meeting


Item 2 - Public Forums and Hearings:


Item 2.1 - Continuation of Public Forum on a Proposal to Rename

Airport Road in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Mayor Foy proposed an action that was in addition to and different from the Naming Committee's recommendations.  Noting that this evening was the third public forum on this matter, he said that he had personally been persuaded that the community needed to honor Dr. King and that renaming Airport Road was an appropriate way to do so.  Mayor Foy pointed out that the monument to Dr. King in the United States is roads throughout the country. 


Mayor Foy remarked that he had also been surprised and concerned about the community's reaction to the proposal and had concluded that this was an opportunity for citizens to engage each other in a discussion about race.  He suggested that citizens get together and talk about why it was important to honor Dr. King, how it was best to do so, and how doing so would enhance the Town.  Mayor Foy stated that the Council had made a mistake at the start when they assumed that “renaming” would be the same thing as “naming”, which is something the Council does frequently.


Mayor Foy noted that the suggestion to rename Airport Road had engendered a great deal of concern in the community.  He pointed out that Chapel Hill believes in taking the time to reach conclusions that the community views as having been thoroughly discussed and vetted. Even though he has a personal opinion about this, he said, he wanted the community to engage in this discussion rather than allowing it to become a racially divisive issue.  Mayor Foy pointed out that not one African American citizen had come forward to oppose the renaming.  He stated the issue was important to many people in the community, urged citizens to try and understand why.  Mayor Foy explained that he did not feel comfortable taking an action that he believed would result in people shouting at each other.


Mayor Foy proposed that Council members recognize their mistake, reconsider the process, and bring people together to talk about it.  Referring to the Council, he stated "We don't impose the will of nine people in the community."  Mayor Foy suggested that the discussions include people who live on Airport Road, members of the NAACP, long-time Chapel Hill residents, and newcomers.  It would be similar to the committee for Apple Chill, he said, and like other committees that the Town had created to address issues.  "I think that the least we can do for our community is to talk about it in the way that we talk about everything else," he said.


Mayor Foy pointed out that the Naming Committee had suggested renaming Airport Road by May 2005, which would give the Town plenty of time to have this dialogue. "So, my suggestion is that we take a step back and take a deep breath.  We don't shout across the table at each other.  We try to do things the way that we should do them in Chapel Hill.  And we work this out."


In conclusion, Mayor Foy said that tonight's hearing would address his proposal as well as the Naming Committee's proposal to rename Airport Road and establish a task force to study and make recommendations about other additional means of honoring Dr. King.  He noted that this would include changing the address of Town Hall to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.  Mayor Foy asked those present to engage in constructive dialogue and to be willing to think about other people's perspectives and motivations.  Those are not always rooted in suspicious or bad intent, he said.


John Maddry, a 70-year resident of Airport Road, objected to the renaming because of the "pure aggravation and trouble of having to notify so many people."  However, he could see that Council members had already made up their minds, he said, and were merely following procedure.  Mr. Maddry read a list of those that he would have to notify if his address were changed, and concluded that those Council members who had "closed minds" were dividing the community.  He asked that the Town not change the name but amend it to Airport Road/Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Highway.  Or, Mr. Maddry stated, abandon the idea altogether and come up with something "more original and more meaningful as a tribute to Dr. King."


Fred Conner, a lifelong resident of Chapel Hill, noted that Connor Drive had been named for his family.  He owned a business on Airport Road, he explained, and was against the renaming.  Although his reasons were financial, he stated he opposed the renaming primarily because it would not honor Dr. King as much as something else would.  Mr. Conner suggested naming the planned third high school after Dr. King, noting that nearly every city in the South had a road named after him.


Bill Shaler stated that housekeeping workers at UNC and UNC Hospitals were being treated as badly as the sanitation workers were during Dr. King's time.  Naming the road that runs right down to the Hospital and University would be a fitting tribute to Dr. King and his efforts to advocate for workers rights, Mr. Shaler said.


Eugene Farrar, representing the NAACP, urged the Town to move forward with renaming Airport Road, because the longer the process gets drawn out the less likely it is that it will happen.  Change comes about when people come together, he said, pointing out that Dr. King was a Nobel Peace Prize winner.  Mr. Farrar pointed out that Chapel Hill could be the model for other small cities and towns.


Bishop L. Gene Hatley expressed admiration for Mayor Foy's attempt to create dialogue about the issue in order to reach an amicable decision.  However, he had been back in Chapel Hill for 16 years, he said, and he could not recall one issue involving African Americans where everyone sat down and discussed it and it came out to everybody's satisfaction.  Bishop Hatley pointed out that his own address had been changed three times and that the Postal Service had never called him to ask if he wanted to talk about that.  "As much as we don't want to admit it, it's a racial issue," he said.  "If we discuss this until Jesus comes it's still going to be a divisive issue."


Bishop Hatley noted that Chapel Hill was not the "Southern Part of Heaven" for some.  Having discussions that lead to understanding is good, he said, but he proposed that most of those in the room would not change their minds.  Bishop Hatley stated that changing the name was the right thing to do and that tonight was the right time to vote on it.


Garland M. King, Jr. described Chapel Hill as a beacon of enlightenment and a veritable utopia compared to some places.  People come to Chapel Hill from all over, he pointed out.  Mr. King noted that some local Blacks had been a part of the community for eight to ten generations.  His wife's family had been on the same tract of land for 104 years, he said.  Mr. King stated that many local African Americans had seen their labor and talents usurped, unrewarded and uncompensated for hundreds of years.  Dr. King was not just a liberator for black people but for America and the world, he said.  Mr. King stated that "some of us have been carrying the burden of the perpetrators of inequity for too long.  We need to be enlightened and uplifted."  He asked if there would be as much resistance to renaming Airport Road if the suggestion were to call it "Ronald Reagan Thoroughfare."


Mildred Council said that naming a building after Dr. King would not be a proper tribute because there is no building large enough.  She said that Dr. King did not march for a building but for what was inside buildings that Blacks were not getting.  When African-Americans marched in Chapel Hill they came on foot from every street and road in Town, she said.  Ms. Council asked the Town not to name a building after Dr. King because the struggle for civil rights took place in the streets.  The struggle was for education, jobs and money, for what was inside the buildings that Blacks could not have, Ms. Council pointed out.


Charles B. Carver noted that more than 700 citizens had signed petitions to protect the integrity of the name of Airport Road.  He asked the Council to pass the alternative proposal that Mayor pro tem Wiggins had presented to the Renaming Committee on June 1, 2004.  That proposal asked that the name of Airport Road continue to be the mailing address of all citizens and businesses located on Airport Road but that the road be dedicated to the memory and honor of Dr. King.  Mr. Carver also suggested that an area in the expanded Chapel Hill Library be dedicated to Dr. King where writings and books pertinent to the Civil Rights Movement would be maintained.  "We feel that this would be a truly fitting memorial to the greatness of the man, his dream, and his teachings," Mr. Carver said.


Melissa J. Lankford said that she felt "mildly encouraged" by Mayor Foy's suggestion because "it validates the primary concern of those of us opposed to renaming Airport Road."  No individual or business on Airport Road had been consulted regarding the impact to them and the feelings of history and pride that citizens have in Airport Road, she said.  Ms. Lankford expressed hope that Mayor Foy's suggestion would be approved and that a proper review and compromise would be reached.  She discussed the potential cost to those whose address would be changed and expressed mystification over why those opposed to the renaming must continue to justify their positions.


Ms. Lankford criticized Council Member Hill, in particular, for a remark attributed to him in the Chapel Hill News.   She said that he had characterized the opposition to renaming Airport Road as "veiled racism," and that his comment had bordered on slander.  Citizens were not against changing the name to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, she said, they were against changing the name at all.


Kathleen Thompson stated that she honestly believed it was the Town's duty to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But, she objected to renaming the road because of the cost to businesses of changing their addresses, she said.  Ms. Thompson recommended that the Town find a better way to honor Dr. King.


Diane McArthur expressed appreciation for Mayor Foy's suggestion.  She remarked that many citizens of Chapel Hill, especially those on Airport Road, had been excluded from the process.  They had not had an opportunity to give input except by their own initiative, she said, and they were being asked to give up a name that was a source of pride and history to them.  Ms. McArthur mentioned that citizens' objections had been characterized as disguised racism and that they had been criticized for not giving compelling reasons why the name should not be changed.  Who sets the standards for compelling reasons, she asked.  "Is it subjective, and subject to change with changing Council members?"  Ms. McArthur asked the Council to receive and review the petition that Mr. Carver had presented on behalf of citizens.  She also requested that they vote to accept Mayor Foy's recommendation.


Chip Foushee expressed opposition to the name change and support for more constructive dialogue.  He would oppose any name change, whether it is in honor of Ronald Reagan or his own dad, he said.  But, if he did want to change the name, he would find out what the legal process was and who was going to be impacted, Mr. Foushee said.  He added that he would also consult with historical societies, businesses, chambers of commerce and merchants' associations, and would have open dialogue and address the objections before the process began.  Mr. Foushee described such a process as the "right, fair and just thing to do."  He quoted Dr. King as saying "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" and applauded Mayor Foy's recommendation for more dialogue.  Mr. Foushee proposed that Council members were afraid to refuse because of the skin color of those who were asking for the change.


Dan Coleman suggested that anyone who wanted to understand the motivation and feelings of those advocating for renaming the road should read The Free Men by John Ehle.  That book tells about the struggle for a public accommodations law in Chapel Hill, he said.  Mr. Coleman explained that after months of protests, sit-ins, demonstrations and violent reprisals, the Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen had proposed that the mayor at the time head up a committee composed of interested parties to serve as a mediation committee.  It was much like the Mayor's proposal tonight, he said.  Mr. Coleman explained that the result had been that Chapel Hill did nothing. The Town never passed a public accommodations law until after a federal law superseded the need for that, he said.


Mr. Coleman acknowledged that the stakes were not as high tonight, but that the meaning (at least on a symbolic level), the implications for future engagement, and the struggle for civil rights and justice in this community were similar, he said.  He commented that a proposal such as the renaming might reveal racial divisions, but does not create them.  Mr. Coleman argued that going ahead and honoring Dr. King in a way that might cause a little discomfort for some was the right thing to do.  Those who don't want their address changed will still resist after the summer, he said.  Mr. Coleman urged Council members to vote for the change as the Naming Committee had recommended.


Historian Yonni Chapman stated that history would judge Chapel Hill and each individual by the stand they take on this issue.  He spoke in favor of changing the name, adding that people needed to be reminded of the values for which Dr. King had died.  These values should be at the center of people's lives and should set the tone for the Town, he said.  Mr. Chapman urged the Town Council to reassert and re-emphasize the values that Dr. King and hundreds of others had struggled for.  This was the tangible victory that would be achieved by renaming Airport Road, he said.


Mr. Chapman noted that Chapel Hill had once been half Black and half White.  But the African American percentage had dwindled since 1900 due to University and Town expansion that had not provided equal opportunities for African Americans, he said.  Mr. Chapman noted that the civil rights struggles of the 1960s had cost this community hundreds of thousands of dollars.  But the dwindling trend has continued, he said, and in all areas where African Americans had suffered in the past they were still second class citizens today.  The fact that everyone opposing the name change was White indicated something about race, he said.  Mr. Chapman noted that none of those who had opposed the change had addressed the concerns that the Black community had expressed about how they had paid the price.  He advised the Town Council to rename the road and to initiate other renamings and honorings and a wider process for discussion.


Kara Baldwin expressed support for renaming the road so that children can look back on Dr. King's legacy.  "Please, please help us keep the dream alive," she said.


Mary C. Johnson said that she had no problem with renaming the road, but that naming UNC's Carolina North after Dr. King was also a possibility.  Ms. Johnson discussed Dr. King’s life and said that that UNC’s new science complex could be named after him.  She read from Dr. King's Nobel Prize acceptance speech and asked that the community come together in prayer before coming together in dispute.


Steven Sherman commented that Dr. King probably was the most revered American in the last 50, if not 100, years.  Most Americans across the political spectrum appreciate the basic vision of respecting a person for the content of their character and not the color of their skin, he said, adding that there is a tremendous reference for Dr. King's method of nonviolent struggle.  Mr. Sherman stated that he would like to see a major road named after Dr. King and that Airport Road seemed like a logical choice.  He proposed that all citizens of Chapel Hill be part of the decision, not just those who own property along Airport Road.  Mr. Sherman noted that many things the Town does (widening roads, allowing Carolina North) inconveniences people.  Changing a road name did not strike him as one of the great changes that people have to adapt to, he said.


Michelle Cotton Laws explained that she was born and raised in Chapel Hill.  The Town and its people were near and dear to her heart, she said.  Ms. Laws stated that she had been saddened by what this issue had revealed.  Some may refer to the Town as "Southern Part of Heaven," she said, but others might see it as the "Northern Tip of Hell."  Ms. Laws expressed support for Mayor Foy's desire to have an open and respectful discourse about this issue.  But it appeared that issues driven by a large groundswell of support in the Black community always have to go back and renegotiate and meet again and again, she said.  Ms. Laws described this as a "disturbing" phenomenon.  She asked the Council to decide in favor of the road renaming tonight.


Brenda Brown challenged those present to read a book entitled Black Like Me.  She did not view herself as better than or inferior to anyone else in the room, she said, so she wondered where the remarks about prejudice were coming from.  Ms. Brown pointed out that Airport road property owners do not own that street, and they could easily change their addresses, she said.  It sounds as though people are saying that they don't want to live on a street that has Dr. King's name on it even though that might not be what they mean, Ms. Brown said.






Council Member Kleinschmidt expressed gratitude to those who had participated in "an extraordinary public discussion and process that began about a year ago during candidate forums."  The three public forums had laid out just about every position that one could take on this issue, he said.  Council Member Kleinschmidt explained that he had considered both sides of the issue and had been persuaded that renaming Airport Road was the better thing to do.  He expressed concern about extending the discussion and recommended that the Council resolve the issue tonight.  That would free all concerned to have that larger discussion about naming the library or Parking Lots 2 and 5 after Dr. King, Council Member Kleinschmidt remarked.


Council Member Strom expressed appreciation for Mayor Foy's proposal but characterized it as a polite way to refuse the petition.  The Naming Committee had offered a reasonable proposal to continue the dialogue, he said, adding that he hoped the Town would engage in such a discussion after passing R-1a.  Council Member Strom stressed that it was time for Chapel Hill to take its place and participate in the living, evolving national monument that honors Dr. King.  He saw the petition opposing it as a sign of healthy political life, he said, but thought that the "Chapel Hill way" ought to end tonight with Council action.  Council Member Strom explained that he had been a pre-teen during the tumultuous 1960s and had not been able to make sense of what was happening in the world during that time.  "For me, personally, this just feels right."  He described the renaming as "an opportunity to put my touch and have my town participate in a memorial to the 60s that really profoundly changed America."


Council Member Verkerk noted that one speaker had described Chapel Hill as "a municipal utopia."  She wanted to support the Mayor's proposal, she said, because she viewed Chapel Hill as a municipal utopia because "we talk to each other."




Council Member Kleinschmidt argued that prolonging the discussion would weaken the effort.  The substitute motion essentially was a de facto vote on R-1a, he said.


Mayor Foy argued that "that is just not a fair characterization," noting that the discussion had already shown how easy it is for people to label each other.  It was a narrow view to believe that there is no value in dialogue, he said.  Mayor Foy explained that his objective was to bring everyone together as a community.  "We have a long, sorry history.  Let's talk about it.  That's my proposal," he said.  Mayor Foy emphasized that his proposal was to talk and confront themselves.  "It is not a 'no,'" he said.


Council Member Greene agreed that there were many reasons to talk.  But she had been impressed by the information that Dan Coleman had shared about a similar scenario when the Town ended up not taking action, she said.  Council Member Greene recommended that the Council vote as they were inclined to do after the long process and series of public forums.


Council Member Ward reviewed the renaming process to date and said that the Council had endeavored to uphold the community's very high standards by providing ample opportunity for public input.  He, among others, had asked the Town staff to send additional letters to Airport Road residents and business owners, he said.  Council Member Ward stated that he still felt, however, that the public process had not adequately served the Town.  He expressed support for the Mayor's resolution to continue and expand the conversation.


Council Member Ward disagreed with Council Member Strom's and Kleinschmidt's characterization that a vote in favor of the Mayor's resolution was a vote against renaming Airport Road, he said.  He argued that process often is as important as the goal when people are discussing difficult issues.  Council Member Ward described Dan Coleman's comment about delay leading to denial as "a poignant one" and he promised to make sure that the Council did not make that mistake in this decision.   It was worth the effort to clearly articulate why many in the community believe that naming Airport Road after Dr. King was the best way to honor him, he said.


Council Member Hill explained what it had been like for him as a White child growing up in Chapel Hill during the racially segregated 50s and 60s.  His mother had worked, he said, and he had been raised by a succession of Black women who were paid the going rate of less than a dollar an hour.  No matter how much people talked about how things were getting better, said Council Member Hill, "it was clear that it wasn't a level playing field."  In 1978, he said, he bought a house in a Black Chapel Hill neighborhood.  But the Black residents in his neighborhood were eventually replaced by students, he said.  Council Member Hill stated that Chapel Hill had now become too expensive for people of lower economic means to live here, and that this included many African Americans.  Council Member Hill said that Chapel Hill owed a tremendous debt to its African American community, who had been disappointed over and over again.  "And I don't want to disappoint them tonight," he said.  Council Member Hill suggested that the Council go ahead and rename the road.


Council Member Harrison noted that he had seconded Mayor Foy's proposal.  Doing so was not a refusal, he said, but it is an invitation to talk, "not from the podium or the letters to the editor columns, but face to face across the table."  Council Member Harrison explained that as "Citizen Ed" he probably would have signed up to speak in favor of renaming Airport Road.  But being a Council member is different, he pointed out, because Council members are stewards for the entire Town. "And there are obviously unresolved issues for a large number of people," he said, noting that some of those issues must be valid because so many people had brought them up. Council Member Harrison said that Mayor Foy had laid out a Chapel Hill process that is open, honest and fair.


Mayor Foy read his motion:


That the Council appoint a special committee to consider the petition submitted by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro branch of the NAACP and to develop recommendations for appropriate memorials to the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by appointing a committee composed of:


·        Members of the Council

·        Members of the NAACP

·        Residents of Airport Road

·        Diverse group of citizens at large

·        Persons familiar with the history of the community, the facilities involved, the person(s) being honored, and other contextual issues.


who would meet to arrange and conduct public forums, workshops, and such other meetings as would be useful in developing options and recommendations for the Council's consideration; and that the opportunities for participation by citizens interested in participating in the proposed re-naming and any related matters be widely publicized through multiple media; and that the Committee conduct its business at the deliberate pace necessary for effective civic process.


Mayor pro tem Wiggins stated that "no one in the room would like to see a road in Chapel Hill named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. any more than I would."  She was a member of the Renaming Committee, she said, noting that every recommendation the Committee had brought to the Council had been for renaming.  But at one Council meeting, Mayor pro tem Wiggins said, another Council member had asked who, besides the NAACP, the Naming Committee had met and discussed this issue with, and explained that she had not been able to give the name of any other group or person.  "It bothered me," Mayor pro tem Wiggins said, "even though I continued to support the renaming.  "And when the Mayor in the last few days came forth with a proposal, it satisfied that uneasiness that I had."


Mayor pro tem Wiggins pointed out that all citizens were entitled to respect when they have a stake in a decision.  She expressed appreciation to Mayor Foy for bringing his proposal to the Council.  She had been in favor of renaming the road, she said, "but not in an in-your-face, I-don't-care-what-anybody-else-thinks approach.  And that has been very much a part of the process."  Mayor pro tem Wiggins emphasized that such an approach was not the way to gain consensus and bring people together and that she believed that members of the community could sit down and reach unanimous support for renaming Airport Road.  It happened with Apple Chill, she said, adding "that was definitely a race issue...and we came out with a much better Apple Chill."


Council Member Kleinschmidt said that he still contended that a vote for the substitute motion was a vote against renaming.  It was problematic to say there was time to discuss this because the renaming would not occur until May 2005, he said, noting that some of the associated costs would be aggregated by the delay.  Council Member Kleinschmidt pointed out that the plan had been to make a decision now so that people could exhaust their stationery and business cards by May.  He said that the idea of creating a task force had come up at the first public forum but the Council had chosen not to do it then.  Council Member Kleinschmidt also expressed disappointment in the committee structure, noting that half of those Council members on the Renaming Committee who had recommended renaming were planning to vote for the Mayor's proposal.


Council Member Greene said that she would vote against the Mayor's proposal.  But, if the Council did pass it she suggested that they give it their "best shot."  Council Member Greene ascertained from Mayor Foy that the new committee could include 20-25 people.


Michelle Laws, speaking out of order and without being recognized by the Mayor, stood up in the audience and expressed anger over her perception that the Council continued to ignore the desires and wished of the Black community.  "You do it over and over and over again," she said.  Mayor Foy invited Ms. Laws to participate in the committee if it was created, but she refuse.  As Ms. Laws stood and left the room she was alluding to Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.”








3a(2).   From Various Citizens regarding Request to Keep the Historic Name of Airport Road, or Consider Renaming to Ronald Reagan Boulevard.