Say goodbye to Airport Road

Ruby Sinreich's picture

This weekend the Town will be christening Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. I am very excited to see this name change finally hapenning, and the Town has put together quite a celebration to commemorate the event. The fun starts Sunday at 2:30 at the intersection of Stephens Street and MLK Boulevard (near Town Hall) and winds up at the Hargarves Center with performances by an interracial choir and Liquid Pleasure - who are probably Chapel Hill's longest continuously gigging party band. There'll be something for everyone.

Y'all come!

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11 Comments

It's a beautiful day at Town

It's a beautiful day at Town Hall. There's still plenty of parking and the buses are running frequently to and fro.

The dignitaries, associated guests, etc. are getting ready to speak.

And for those Actioneer's that claim Chapel Hill is full of "dead churches" and bereft of spirit, they should've been here for the rousing spiritual music and feeling that kicked off this event.

Mayor Foy starts off with a

Mayor Foy starts off with a few remarks.

As the King's efforts were difficult, so was the "road to" renaming MLK. MLK asked that we "keep our eyes on the future" and that "there's more to do" and that everytime we ride down this road we'll be reminded of what still needs to be done.

He's introduced the Council and pointed out that the MLK vote was unaminous. "And someone that never does we he's supposed to do" Mr. Battle.

Now the OC commissioners Carey, Foushee and

Mayor Foy took "pride and joy as he drove down here".

Bill - "This is not just a

Bill - "This is not just a celebration for MLK Blvd but a celebration of how we got" the renaming done. "Now for all those around the state that laughed when the " (decision was put off)" I can take them for a drive down MLK Blvd."

Mark K., when speaking in favor of the renaming, pointed out that MLK Blvd will encourage thoughtfulness and reflection more than just a rememberance of MLK.

In a number of remarks so far, this is the common theme.

Mr. Battle is standing to speak.

He's called on Rev. Manl y , and the crowd cheers and claps.

A celebration of "the town is coming together to honor a man of Dr. King's stature".

Mentions the concurrent renaming of MLK Rd. to Jackie Robinson.

"One thing we don't do enough in Chapel Hill is speak of our culture" ... "our history".

He's talking about sneaking by a big old farm up Airport Rd. That the man wouldn't deliberately shot you but that (could happen).

"People don't remember"...that there used to be a large landfill along Airport Rd. In that fertile soil, he says, "One of the best things about Airport Rd. is you could pick some of the largest, juiciest blackberries"

"Why Airport Rd.? I've been asked that a lot".... "We looked at 4 major thoroughfares..." and three of them we name for people. All Airport Rd. had was "a place along it, the airport".

He points out that the process was as important as the renaming....

"We didn't get everything we wanted but we got the name change..."

A "visible road" "a bridge" "a path" to "a rememberance" of "one time in history".

I wasn't able to make

I wasn't able to make today's celebration, but I think it is important to recognize the two council members who planned the event, Sally and Edith--an event held on Mother's Day. Happy Mother's Day to both.

I went to the first part of

I went to the first part of the renaming ceremony. I expected more people. I also expected to cry. The girl who read her poem was the only speaker who reached me on an emotional level. Even she didn't come close to reminding me of how painful life was 35 years ago.
1970 wasn't very long ago. I have vivid memories of driving by Klan rallies on summer nights. A Klan member ran the store two blocks from my house. Back then, using the word n***** was barely remarkable (though it always made me feel bad). As part of my childhood experience I often watched violent race riots on the news. By the time 1970 rolled around, I had seen enough images of angry black men on TV to be thoroughly afraid of them. I was a little terrified of what would happen when 5th grade started. Overnight, my school would become 50% African-American. I expected Detroit. I watched my neighbors flee to private schools. The summer before school started I remember kids warning me not to touch blacks because they were dirty and filthy and you'd catch something.
It absolutely kills me that so many people really think that it has been ‘long enough' for everyone ‘to be over' slavery and segregation. It kills me that I had a neighbor in the county who said he has never let a black person in his house because ‘that's the way he was raised.' It kills me that I have a brother-in-law who didn't want his own niece to come to his daughter's wedding because she is married to an African-American man. It kills me that many people believe that there is an educational achievement gap because African-American culture doesn't value education. It kills me that in the recent SGC election at my sons' school the only African-American who ran for the one year SGC term finished last of three. She specifically stated that she wanted to be on the SGC to help close the achievement gap. It kills me that my 8 year old tells me that it's not fair that all 4 African-American children in his class have to go to special classes to learn how to read and do math.
I'm only offering all of this as perspective for those who didn't grow up in the South. Racism (and the lack of deep awareness by many of how deeply it is imbedded) is a serious problem and it's incredibly difficult and painful to discuss. For me, describing my pain feels indulgent because I know my pain can't come anywhere near the pain African-Americans feel.

(A plug for the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the greatest nonprofits ever created: wwwsplcenter.org)

Ruby Sinreich's picture

Mary, I agree with you. I

Mary, I agree with you. I didn't hear anyone say they thought the struggle for racial equality was "over," though.

This event wasn't about equality or social change. Naming a street is not going to change a racist's mind or give a black person a new opportunity. It's a simple symbol that gives thanks to the work of a great man and the movement who supported him.

To me the surprising thing is that this was such a big deal. It was simple idea, it was suppoerted by every candidate at the NAACP forum in 1993, including the Mayor. So why the whole thing took more than 5 minutes to decide when it reached the Council, I can't understand.

I found the Town's need for a "process" to rename the street embarrassing. I would be glad to see people address the many recurring issues you bring up, Mary. But re-naming a street barely scratches the surface.

On the School Governance

On the School Governance Committee (SGC) note, I wish that federal law permitted the appointment of one or two slots for minority parents for use when the makeup of the SGC was not in proportion to the racial makeup of the school. It is something that our SGC and other SGCs used to do. In my opinion, it provided better representation for our students.

Ruby, I wasn't suggesting

Ruby, I wasn't suggesting that people who think 'the struggle is over' were at the renaming ceremony. Of course, they wouldn't be.
Unlike you, I thought yesterday was as good an opportunity as any for speeches really addressing racism in this community. On the other hand, with so few people there, other than those involved in the process, maybe there was no point in giving difficult speeches.

Mary, if we learn anything

Mary, if we learn anything from the great humans of history, it's that the size of the immediate audience doesn't matter.

Take Dr. King's speech of Dec. 5th, 1955 to the small group of organizers of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA):

And you know, my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life's July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November. There comes a time.

We are here, we are here this evening because we are tired now. And I want to say that we are not here advocating violence. We have never done that. I want it to be known throughout Montgomery and throughout this nation that we are Christian people. We believe in the Christian religion. We believe in the teachings of Jesus. The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest. That's all.

The key elements of his ensuing actions, his future speeches are laid bare in what would be his introduction to the national stage.

Mary, while you think the speakers at the MLK renaming missed an opportunity to stir our souls (and I think you're right with the exception maybe of Mr. Battle's setting the local, historical context), the speakers, especially Mr. Thorpe, will have additional opportunities to remedy that omission.

Mary, it's never a bad time to lay out who you are and what you stand for, maybe you can encourage them to do so next time.