Excerpt of the Minutes from the May 24, 2004 Business Meeting


Item 6 - Continuation of a Public Forum on a Proposal to

 Rename Airport Road to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard


Mayor pro tem Wiggins, Chair of the Naming Committee, explained that tonight would be a continuation of the public forum that began on April 19, 2004.  The Council had expressed a desire that all residences on Airport Road receive notification that the Naming Committee and the Council were considering a request by the local chapter of the NAACP to rename Airport Road, she said.  Mayor pro tem Wiggins pointed out that notices had been sent to all Airport Road businesses and residents.  The Council was continuing the public forum to give those who had received a notice a chance to respond, she said. Mayor pro tem Wiggins stated that the Committee anticipated having to reconvene after receiving tonight's public hearing and would bring a recommendation back to the Council on June 14, 2004. 


Jan Cosby stated her opposition to renaming Airport Road.  Her reasons were the history of the current name and the cost to taxpayers and individuals who will be affected, she said.  Ms. Cosby objected to the manner in which the proposal had been handled, stating that many Council members had made up their minds before soliciting citizen input.  She stated that some had refused to listen to reservations on the part of residents and businesses or to consider suggestions of other ways to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Ms. Cosby reminded Council members that they had been elected to represent all of Chapel Hill's citizens, not just some.  She asked that they listen with an open mind to what everyone had to say.  The Council had underestimated the number of people who would be affected and had oversimplified the process of changing addresses, she said.  Ms. Cosby also objected to this item being referred back to the Naming Committee.


Charles Carver, explaining that he had a Black son-in-law and about to become the grandfather of an adopted bi-racial child, emphasized that he was not a racist.  Without Dr. King, his family would not be where they are today, he said.  Mr. Carver predicted that the name change would cause him much inconvenience and would cost about $5,000 in out-of-pocket expenses. He agreed that the Town should honor the work of Dr. King, but not by changing the name of Airport Road, he said.  Mr. Carver suggested dedicating the Town Hall or the Public Library to Dr. King.  He noted the more than 700 people who had signed a petition opposing the renaming.  Mr. Carver implored Council members not to divide the Town on this issue. 


Becky Johnson described the renaming process as "more than flawed."  She said that it had lacked input from those most directly affected by the changes.  Ms. Johnson told Council members that she had lived on Airport Road for the entire 34 years of her life, and her sister read the balance of her written remarks.  In her statement, Ms. Johnson argued that a road was not a dignified way to honor Dr. King's legacy.  It would be more appropriate to name a school, library, park, or camp after him, she said.  Ms. Johnson asserted that the proposal to rename Airport Road had "come in very low under the radar of citizens of Chapel Hill, especially residents and business owners."  She described this as a costly and a frivolous way to spend taxpayers' money.


Michael Montague, a seven-year resident of Airport Road, described the benefits associated with the renaming as "ephemeral" and "entirely immaterial."  Mr. Montague said that he expected to see material benefits from a proposition that has material costs.


Northside resident Charlie Kast, a minister at the Community Church but speaking as an individual, expressed support for the renaming of such as substantial and visible road in memory of Dr. King.  He suggested that the issue not be seen in racial terms but as a suggestion to name the road after a man who gave his life in service to all Americans.  Dr. King tried to bring people together and to confront racism, separatism and the lie of separate but equal, said Rev. Kast.  He argued that the renaming was the very least the community could do and that the cost and inconvenience was small compared to what Dr. King had paid.


Chapel Hill resident Ashley Osment supported renaming the road, she said, because it was the right thing to do.  In any poll asking people to name a 20th century American who stood for peace, equality, justice and freedom, people would reply that it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she said.  "That's not ephemeral and that's not immaterial.  That's huge."  Ms. Osment remarked that the sense of place that many people have was not something to belittle or deny.  She suggested that the Chamber of Commerce distribute a list of businesses along Airport Road so that citizens could patronize and support their efforts to change the name.


Robert Porter expressed support for the renaming of Airport Road, commenting that Dr. King was a man who speaks to our own time in a thousand ways.  Dr. King had given up his life fighting for working people, he said, noting that Dr. King had been assassinated in Memphis while standing up for striking sanitation workers.  Mr. Porter pointed out that Dr King had reminded people that you cannot have a first class nation as long as you have second class citizens.  In an earlier time, a man of Dr. King's greatness would have had a town, county, or perhaps an entire state, named after him.  Thousands of roads have been named after Dr. King, Mr. Porter pointed out, and not all of them have been through predominately African American neighborhoods.  He described it as "troubling" that Chapel Hill, known for its progressive ideals, had been so far behind on this issue.  The Town really needs to catch up and give Dr. King this much-deserved honor, Mr. Porter said.


Bishop L. Gene Hatley pointed out that if the Council were to base its decision on the number of people who come forward to support or oppose this idea then the supporters would lose, since those who support it are less resourceful in getting their message out.  Those who support the proposal would also lose if the decision is based on the cost and inconvenience that the renaming would cause, he said.  Bishop Hatley urged Council members to support the renaming because of the ideals that the Chapel Hill community promotes.  He commented that a building represents stagnation and a camp represents a free-flowing environment for fun, play and learning.  But a street would represent ongoing movement from one point to another, he said, adding that this is the kind of connecting force that would please Dr. King.  Bishop Hatley stated that the naming was long overdue.


John Maddry told Council members that he had lived on Airport Road for 70 years.  He opposed changing the name, he said, because he has already had to changing his address several times even though he has never moved out of that house.  Mr. Maddry suggested changing the name as a memorial to Dr. King, but without changing the address.  He asked how many people in the room, who lived or owned businesses on Airport Road, were in favor of the change. A few people raised their hands, one of whom was Council Member Kleinschmidt, who lives on Airport Road.  Mr. Maddry noted that the Town Council was also considering names for Parking Lot #5. He proposed that this might be a good place to name after Dr. King. 


Stephen Largent read a letter opposing the change that he and his family had written to the Town Council the prior month. The letter stated that the renaming issue seemed to have come up abruptly and arbitrarily and should be settled by public opinion rather than by the Council.  Mr. Largent said that a few Chapel Hillians who seem to have self-serving interests were pushing the issue and that the Council appeared to be listening to that small group rather than the rest of the Town.  He stated that none of the Naming Committee or any Town Council members who support this change live or own a business on Airport Road.  Mr. Largent wondered how they would feel about renaming the road if they did.


Eugene Farrar, representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said that African American history is often not taught and recognized as it should be.  He noted, for example, that Hank Aaron was the "homerun king" but that most people would say it was Babe Ruth.  Mr. Farrar explained that he had lived on Airport Road for more than 60 years.  He recalled walking right past the "whites only" Chapel Hill High School to go to Lincoln High School, he said.  Mr. Farrar said that the NAACP had already indicated their support for this idea.  He expressed confidence that the Town Council would "do the right thing" and rename the road after Dr. King.


Mildred Council, owner of Mama Dip's Kitchen, said that renaming Airport Road goes deeper for her than for many in Town because she recalls when black men built that street with picks and shovels.  That was a rocky road, Ms. Council said, but changing the name to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard would show that the road of hardship had become the road to success.  Ms. Council also suggested that the Town place signs at the peripheries of Town directing people to the downtown area.  Many who call her restaurant for directions think that downtown Chapel Hill is just Franklin Street, she said.


Brenda Jo Brown explained that she had not meant, when referring to "MLK Boulevard" at the last public hearing, that the road should be named anything less than Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.  She had only used the abbreviation to save time.  Ms. Brown stated that it was trivial to discuss money in the context of discussing a man who had given his life so that people of all races could be together as they are today.  She was tired of hearing objections from residents and business owners, she said.  "Let me tell you.  You do not own Airport Road.  You merely live alongside Airport Road," she said.  Ms. Brown noted that her taxes were going to the upkeep of Airport Road and that she had just as much stake as anyone else did in its renaming.  She works for the post office, she said, and knows that you merely have to write your new address on the back of your bills, where indicated, and it costs nothing.  Ten to fifteen dollars for a set of business cards cannot compare to what Dr. King has done so that everyone can be together in this room today, she said. Ms. Brown stated that she would be happy to name a park or a school after Dr. King, but Airport Road should be named after him as well.


Joe Herzenberg thanked the Town Council for all their work.  He pointed out that this was one of those Council decisions that is not easy to make.  Mr. Herzenberg expressed support for renaming the road but suggested that the memorial be something grander.  The Public Library might be worth considering, he said, or perhaps a school. 


Colony Woods Drive resident Diane McArthur spoke in opposition to the renaming and asked Council members to find another way to honor Dr. King.  Patients and clients do not come with a preaddressed change of address label, she said, noting that it would cost time and money for many medical and other professional practices to make this change.  Ms. McArthur asked the Council to start the discussion over again.  She suggested that tonight's comments not go back to the Naming Committee and described that as "a bit like sending the fox to guard the hen house."   Ms. McArthur said she believed that many on the Committee had already formed opinions.  She expressed skepticism that they would fairly evaluate and respond to the concerns of those with differing points of view.


Airport Road resident Mary Wakeford, who owns rental property on Airport Road, spoke in favor of the proposal.  She noted that Airport Road was the major entrance from the north into Town and the first impression that visitors get when they enter Chapel Hill.  To name it Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard would be "highly appropriate," she said.  Ms. Wakeford urged the Town to make this change and honor Airport Road with one of the heroes of the 20th century.


Chip Foushee, who owns a United Parcel Service (UPS) store at the Chapel Hill North Shopping Center, explained that 200 people rent mail boxes from him and that each of those would have to get new business cards, new brochures, new invoices, and change their addresses on websites.  Mr. Foushee predicted that Airport Road businesses would have to raise prices due to the extra expense.  He has two young sons who know much about Dr. King, he said, and they had reached this awareness through conversation and prayer in his home.  But he did not like changing the name and did not want to pay for it, Mr. Foushee said.  He suggested naming a memorial highway, park, or fountain after Dr. King.


Aaron Nelson, director of the Chapel Hill Carrboro of Commerce, said that the Chamber's Board of Directors had unanimously voted to support naming a public facility in Chapel Hill after Dr. King.  They would encourage the Council to do so no later than the end of September 2004, he said.  Mr. Nelson suggested that the facility be determined through broad public discussion.  And if no other alternative arises, the Camber would support renaming Airport Road for Dr. King to recognize the important contributions he has made to the community, Mr. Nelson said.  He added that the Chamber Board also recommended that the renaming take place no more than 18 but no less than 12 months from the time the decision is made.  That way, businesses can phase the expense in over time, he said.  Mr. Nelson stated that he, personally, hoped there would be another place that would have a reflecting pool, a statue and Dr. King's words written on the wall.  And, he added, maybe rename Airport road as well.  Mr. Nelson suggested that the Town find a way to do better in this regard than most other communities. 


Jeremy Collins told Council members that he had been a student at UNC and a member of the community for much of his adult life.  He praised the mix of cultures in Town and said that he had wondered why something like the renaming had not been done before now.  Mr. Collins expressed hope that Chapel Hill would be proactive enough to not be a city that allows Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard to separate the bad from the good parts of Town.  He said that this is how such roads are placed in most other cities, including Durham.  Mr. Collins stated that there were "confederate eyesores" at UNC, such as buildings named after salve masters.  He also noted that there are unmarked graves for slaves in Town and that people do not even know where those are.  Mr. Collins expressed concern about a Town that is so progressive in thought, rich in culture, and at the forefront of the 21st century having "a very 1960s, don’t want to integrate schools, don't want to mix with black folk, and don’t want to step out of our comfort zones mentality."


Stephen Dear described the renaming as a proclamation of the kind of values that are needed in America.  He argued that such things as concern about economic justice and concern about nonviolence cannot be taken for granted and are more important than the economic concerns of the businesses along Airport Road.  Mr. Dear urged the Council to rename Airport Road in honor of Dr. King, who upheld the best in everyone.       

Bill Thorpe stated that he was proud of those who had come forward tonight and spoken in favor of renaming Airport Road.  He verified with Town Engineering Director George Small that an individual's street number and zip code would not change even if the name of the street changed. Mr. Thorpe thanked Council members for their patience and urged them to complete the process on June 14th by coming back with a decision.


Dave Walker stated that he had been called a racist at the earlier public hearing because he had expressed opposition to the name change.  He has a black son-in-law and two black grandchildren, he said.  "I'm not a racist, but if they keep calling me a racist I'm gonna be one before it's over," Mr. Walker said.  He explained that his two black grandchildren had asked why some were considering renaming Airport Road.  "I have no idea why," he had told them, he said, adding that he told them that it was because the NAACP wanted it.  Mr. Walker stated that Dr. King was a great man and agreed that something should be named after him.  He argued, though, that renaming the Airport Road would split the Town apart and cause people on both sides to look at each other differently.  "Which I'm starting to do," he remarked.  Mr. Walker suggested naming something else after Dr. King, something that would pull the Town together rather than driving it apart.


Council Member Greene, a Naming Committee member, said that she, too, had once viewed naming another street after Dr. King as a trivial gesture.  But, she pointed out that almost all of those streets are on the poor black sides of American towns.  Council Member Greene explained that she had reached the conclusion that renaming Airport Road would be a truly creative response.  She noted that streets and mobility have been important to the civil rights movement and that African Americans have always viewed the struggle for freedom and civil rights as a journey.


Council Member Greene understood that the costs were real, she said, but cost is not always measured in dollars and cents.  She stated that she was comfortable endorsing the resolution because she had given it a lot of thought and believed it was in the best interests of all.  She expressed support for a long transition to the new name as well as the suggestion to have two street signs.  Council Member Greene also praised the idea of citizens having conversations about relationships with one another.  This was a grand opportunity in Chapel Hill, she said, adding that she was grateful to be on the Council at this time.  Council Member Greene noted that a speech she had given on this topic was available on her website, at Sallygreene.org. 


Council Member Kleinschmidt stated that the "unfortunate misperception" by some that this had come in under the radar was "absolutely not true."  The renaming had been discussed in newspapers in November and had been before the Council ever since.  They had decided at the April public hearing to mail out postcards, he said, adding that he had received one at his home on Airport Road.  Council Member Kleinschmidt said that the process the Council and Naming Committee had undertaken, even to the point of delaying the decision on this, was an accommodation to those who thought the process was moving too fast.  And he had never anticipated that the renaming, if it happens, would happen fast with no time for businesses and residents to respond appropriately and exhaust their letterheads and business cards, he said.  


Council Member Verkerk asked what groups the Naming Committee had met with.  Mayor pro tem Wiggins replied that they had met with the NAACP.


Council Member Strom said that he was comfortable with the recommendations that the Naming Committee had made and proposed sending the item to the staff to bring back for Council action. 


Mayor pro tem Wiggins replied that if it were sent back to the Naming Committee they would consider what they had heard, determine timelines, and ask the staff to prepare a resolution or action for the next meeting.  She said, however, that it was fine with her if the Council wanted to send it to the staff.  However, sending it back to the Committee would give integrity to the public process, she said.  Mayor pro tem Wiggins explained that the Committee would state that they had heard public comment, reaffirmed their position or consider other things, and pass their opinion onto the staff to prepare the memo to bring back to Council.  


Mayor Foy suggested doing that.


Council Member Verkerk stated that an "initial flaw" was the Committee's name.  The Town would not be in the sort of quagmire it was if it had not appeared to start with the goal of renaming Airport Road rather than finding a way to honor Dr. King, she said.  Mayor Foy replied that the Naming Committee was a standing committee.


Several Council members began to comment, but Mayor Foy suggested that they recess the public forum and continue the debate on June 14, 2004.  He proposed asking the Naming Committee to listen to all public comment and then draft a response for the Council to consider on June 14, 2004.


Council Member Harrison agreed that the item should go back to the Naming Committee.  He commented that this was finally beginning to feel like a deliberate and thorough Chapel Hill process.


Council Member Harrison stated that the Town would have to work in some detail with the Postal Service to get this straight and that doing so would take some time.  He recommended that the Naming Committee figure out how to deal with the Postal Service.  Council Member Harrison said that he was not yet ready to commit to renaming the road because he had not seen a process worked out for mitigating the effects.