What's Their Problem?

Apparently a bunch of people came out to the Town Council meeting this week to oppose re-naming Airport Road to Martin Luther King Boulevard. I'm pretty surprised - I thought this was a no-brainer.

Local NAACP President Fred Battle bristled Monday at criticism of the idea to rename Airport Road for Martin Luther King Jr., which the Town Council will consider May 24.

Any time there's a call to rename something to honor a black person, the first objection that comes up is how much the renaming would cost, Battle said during a council forum.

"It hardens my heart to see that this type of attitude still exists in this community," he said.

Battle followed seven speakers to the podium, each of whom objected to renaming the road or offered other suggestions. Marie Weiden said she thought it would be better to rename Airport Road for Howard Lee, Chapel Hill's first black mayor and a longtime state senator.
- Chapel Hill Herald, 4/20/04

If they name it after Howard Lee instead of the Reverend Martin Luther King, I may consider formally petitioning Carrboro to annex my house.

I can't help but think of these words from Sister Souljah about resistance to declaring MLK's birthday an official holiday:

Public Enemy believes that the powers that be in the states of New Hampshire and Arizona have found psychological discomfort in paying tribute to a black man who tried to teach white people the meaning of civilization."


Andrew asks:

"Would you want your street renamed?"


--Eric Muller, 108 Anglese Court (which is an ugly name for a street and is invariably mispronounced as "Angeles" (as in "Los")).

A recent episode of "Futurama" had some characters in a Wizard of Oz landscape getting directions and asked if they should take the Yellow Brick Rd. They were told that the name of the road had been changed to Martin Luther King Blvd.

Is Matt Groenig a racist? We know that L.Frank Baum (author of "The Wizard of Oz") editorialized for the eradication of Native Americans while editor of a western paper in the late 1800's. Has the renaming of roads for MLK become a societal cliche?

Just questions...please don't put me in the electronic pillory for violations of political correctness just yet. (I still like my lobbyist proposal the best.)



That is what naming Airport Rd. Marin Luther King Blvd. is about.

If the folks who are "inconvenienced" by a road name change *can not* GIVE a little as small example of respect towards our local black community and GIVE a *little* towards honoring Dr. King then I am really worried about the future of our community harmony.

It is too late now to bring up suggestions for a “better idea”. The timing is off, the context is wrong, and the effort is reactionary. The only thing that will happen with more discussion and rebuttal at this point is misunderstanding. Not reconciliation.

I know a lot of folks commenting on this list are NOT dyed in the wool racist but you have to put yourself, I mean REALLY put yourself, in the shoes of black folk. How do you think it feels when people speak so vigorously against you? It may seem small and symbolic but it’s much more than that to allot of black folks.

We need change NOW and changing the name of a road is the LEAST the very LEAST we can do as so-called progressive community to build respect between racial communities.

WHY NOT ONE MORE SMALL SACRIFICE? I hope we can give a lot more in the future, including our love.

In response to Sally's comments regarding the decision before Town Council:

"We can have parks and schools and libraries named after King or others. We can have a memorial to local civil rights leaders. But right now, we have a request before us to rename Airport Road for Dr. King, and I think the reasons are compelling. Yes there are costs, and they are not to be minimized; but this is a step we would take as a whole community, and sometimes costs and benefits are not measured in dollars and cents."

This sounds to me like you are not open to new suggestions just because there is an existing suggestion before you. But is this existing suggestion of renaming Airport Road the best option? Shouldn't we separate the two issues: honoring Dr. King and renaming Airport Road? I hope that Town Council will not be blind to other, possibly better ideas, just because they have one idea in front of them that they need to act on.

Can Town Council say "No" to renaming Airport Road without saying "No" to honoring Dr. King? Are they afraid they will come across as close-minded and unwilling to memorialize a black man -- that supporters of the proposal won't see that there are _other_ reasons to say no to the road renaming? Maybe people (who don't know me) are going to call me a racist for speaking out against renaming Airport Road. Are members of Town Council trying to avoid this epithet by moving forward with a less-than-perfect proposal? Sally, you yourself (in your linked speech) said that everyone as a candidate felt a need to show support for something that had such great political implications, just as a matter of course (or so it seemed to read).

Also, Sally, how do we "take [this step] as a whole community" when there are a number of people against it, even those who would proactively support honoring Dr. King if it were done in a better way? Is Town Council going to divide the community over an issue that is secondary (the implications of renaming Airport Rd) to the primary issue being discussed (a good way to honor Dr. King in this town)?

I really hope that Town Council won't move forward with the street renaming just because it is the "request before us". As you can see by the posts here, there are just too many better options.

I have't heard any better options yet. And I still havn't heard any compelling arguments as to why this is bad idea. I have heard people suggest other ideas. Funny none of those were mentioned BEFORE the NAACP asked the Town to rename Airport Rd...

I ask you, why are you attached to "Airport?" What does that name mean to you? Wouldn't you be proud to have a main artery of our community named after a man who layed down his life for our your benefit?

I recommend today's editorial in the Chapel Hill News: http://www.chapelhillnews.com/opinion/story/1271977p-7393875c.html

"Of course the town should respond to the modest request of the African-American community and name a principal thoroughfare for the man universally recognized as America’s greatest civil rights leader. To do anything less would be a rebuff to our local black community. Further, it would undermine Chapel Hill’s reputation as a progressive, inclusive place... The fact that this proposal has generated so much controversy in our community and beyond is embarrassing."

I still think it would be a much more effective way to honor MLK if the town proclaimed that they would pay for a lobbyist (the Martin Luther King, Jr. lobbysist) that would go to D.C. and lobby for taking money out of the miilitary budget and bringing it back here to use in the community to help people. MLK didn't spend a lot of time agitating for road names to be changed to Freedom Boulevard.

This whole road discussion seems like all butter and no bread.


I have a Modest Proposal. Why not name the silly Carolina North, which seems backwards, Martin Luther King Campus of the University of North Carolina? That would honor King, address the historic problems of previous UNC adminstrators, and help the renaming of Airport to MLK Blvd make even more sense!

Tony, Chancellor, are you reading this?

Nota bene: I mean this in addition to the road renaming

In response to Ruby:

"I have't heard any better options yet. And I still havn't heard any compelling arguments as to why this is bad idea. I have heard people suggest other ideas. Funny none of those were mentioned BEFORE the NAACP asked the Town to rename Airport Rd..."

First, I think there are MANY better options. A NUMBER of better options have been mentioned just through this forum, so I won't get into them again. Because what I still don't get is that I think renaming a road is one of the WORST options. It's costly, it's an inconvenience, it's divisive, and it flat-out isn't a very pretty or interesting way to honor someone so important to American history. It's boring and the same thing everyone else has done, only with a Chapel Hill panache of saying "we'll do them all one better; we'll rename a MAJOR road".

But what really bothers me about this process is what Ruby mentions in her last sentence above -- noone else BESIDES the NAACP was included in the process for proposing this name change. The residents of Airport Road were not included, the interested citizens of Chapel Hill were not included, those who would fully support looking for a good way to honor Dr. King were not included. Yet now everyone says "we have this idea; it's important; let's do it" -- with so little consideration to whether the idea is actually a good one in the first place (the renaming, not the honoring of Dr. King). And everyone now acts like to oppose this name change is to oppose Dr. King and his teachings. Can you not see that most people who are opposed to renaming Airport Road just don't want to rename Airport Road, whether to honor Dr. King, Mother Teresa, Desmund Tutu, John Lennon, Michael Jordan, Dean Smith, or whomever? I would not want my street renamed, even if the town proposed naming it after me!

Would you want your street renamed?

Why a road? Why so many roads? It seems to have come out of low expectations. After Dr. King's assassination, black people who wanted to honor him thought the dominant white communities would not be generous enough to erect a statue or to do other things really significant, but that changing the name of a road could possibly be achieved. This is the observation of Derek Alderman, an ECU professor who studies, of all things, MLK road namings.

There are other reasons. Road names command attention in ways that a monument does not. They work their way into the community on many levels: signs, maps, newspaper ads, etc. I think there's also a particularly close link to the work of Dr. King himself—which hit national attention with the Montgomery bus boycott, then later the push for the public accommodations bill as well as other civil rights legislation. Civil rights meant getting shut of Jim Crow laws that dictated that, if you were black, you couldn't be guaranteed that when you headed out in your car on a trip that you would find a restaurant that would serve you or even a bathroom you could use. Mobility, the freedom to move about in the larger white world without fear, was a key achievement that white people like me don't often think about because we never did have to think about it.

There is now a kind of network of MLK roads throughout the country--so many that there's a book about them, called Along Martin Luther King, subtitled "Black America's Main Street" because so many of them delineate the contours of a nation that is still not integrated.

See http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?140006080X

My first thoughts were what many have said: that it's cliché, unimaginative, uninspired. But the truly creative angle here is that we have the chance to contribute to this memorial tapestry by dedicating a major, centrally significant street. Few of them are true main streets. One exception is the major MLK in Austin, which Robert Porter told us about last night. We have the opportunity to be another shining exception.

Chapel Hill was the first city in the nation to have a Martin Luther King holiday. I'm surprised we haven't done this long ago. But it is not too late, and with the world in the shape it's in, we could all stand to study Dr. King a little more closely. Though he won the Nobel Prize for peace, his message was never received with total acceptance, as Ruby points out. Then on the other hand, maybe I run in peculiar circles, but my sense is that many people of all colors in our community are very supportive of the name change.

We can have parks and schools and libraries named after King or others. We can have a memorial to local civil rights leaders. But right now, we have a request before us to rename Airport Road for Dr. King, and I think the reasons are compelling. Yes there are costs, and they are not to be minimized; but this is a step we would take as a whole community, and sometimes costs and benefits are not measured in dollars and cents.

Recently I gave this talk to the UNC Association of Women Faculty and Professionals: http://sallygreene.org/mlk.htm

You'll read how I went from being underwhelmed, to thinking through many of the opposing arguments, to ending up fully supportive. We had a very constructive public forum last night, and I thank everyone for their heartfelt comments. We need to take full advantage of the chance that we now have to deepen our conversations about race in Chapel Hill. I look forward to those conversations as we stumble along on our journeys together.

83 Busses. Routes covering 25 miles across two municipalities. 140,000 annual hours of service. Over 4.5 Million riders annually. Historically significant. (First community in NC of size to have public bus service; linked to Dr. King through the Montgomery bus boycott.) Environmentally forwardlooking. With fare free, as socially progressive as you can get. Supportable by everyone.

versus . . .

One (pretty big) road. Just a oouple of miles. In only one town. A bunch of cars (too many). Evidently not historically significant enough to merit retaining current name. Environmentally awful. No social significance. Burdensome to a minority; divisive to a few more.

Yes, you have a proposal before you. Doesn't mean it's the best one.

Personally, I don't mind if Airport Road is renamed, but I'd very much prefer to see MLK on ALL our main streets, not just one.

PS Next time it might help if the committee or task force looking into matters like this broadly solicited public comment BEFORE things get to this late stage. Then people won't have staked out their positions so firmly that it makes it difficult to consider alternate proposals.

I love the idea of renaming our transit system, which really is a model for the state and the country!

It was started by an African-American mayor, Howard Lee. The civil rights connection to bus access needs to stay vivid in our memories.

The busses aren't restricted to one road, but course through all major roads in our community. They aren't restricted to Chapel Hill, but encompass Carrboro and the University.

How many people ride our busses every year? The number must be astronomical. Each of them would have a reminder of Dr. King with each ride. Signage in the busses could rotate Dr. King's ideas and quotes.

All the pedestrians and other drivers the busses pass would also be exposed to Dr. King's name (and perhaps image) every day. I can't think of a more visible tribute.

We could phase this in over time to minimize the costs of repainting, but the eventual effect would be extraordinary.

How better to honor a man who stood for Freedom for All than on our public transportation system which we have made Free for All?

Why not use one of the most progressive aspects of our town to honor such a progressive figure?

Unity said: "It's also too bad the recommended renaming has been so divisive. Kinda runs counter to the goals of Dr. King."

Actually Dr. King's work was incredibly divisive at the time because it challenged so many people's assumptions and priviledges. Many white people found him morally offensive or just wished he would "wait." I think it's entirely appropriate for his legacy to continue to challenge folks - just as he would have done had he not been murdered for supporting unpopular movements like poor people's rights and opposition to the war. It's clear to me now that his work is not even close to finished.

As for your other renaming suggestions, they're all good and none are mutually exclusive. That is, we could easily have more than one instition named after Dr. King. The fact that this keeps being raised as a reason not to do MLK Blvd makes it sound more like a diversionary tactic than a helpful suggestion. Especially when it comes from anonymous posters who may not even live here or share our goals.

It's too bad there wasn't more public input earlier in this process. There may be some closet (or out of the closet) racism involved, but it's clear most folks who disagree with this renaming are being objective about it.

It's also too bad the recommended renaming has been so divisive. Kinda runs counter to the goals of Dr. King. I guess that's why most of the roads named for Dr. King across the country were new ones, not renamings.

There are a lot of other prominent options for honoring Dr. King in our community. Let's find one everyone can not only agree on but get excited about. Wouldn't that be more in the spirit of Dr. King?

A downtown plaza memorializing the center of our historical civil disobediance has a broader and deeper meaning than just a physical space.

Likewise, naming the library (the most heavily used in the state) which is about to undergo a MAJOR expansion (what a great dedication ceremony that would be), would also have special meaning, especially if the symbolism was augmented with outreach programs designed to attract minority youth to reading and help close the disturbing and very real achievement gap. I'll bet renaming the library could be just the catalyst needed to get significant donations to fund such programs.

Or, why not rename our free transit service? Imagine all the busses crisscrossing not just Chapel Hill, but Carrboro, every day with MLK's name on their side. The historic significance of that choice is obvious. What a way to showcase to the nation the fare free service we offer to all!

Let's be creative about this. Let's make it more of a beginning to something that will keep Dr. King's ideas alive and active in our Town, not just a static feel good series of road signs. Why are we satisfied with just a gas guzzling auto corridor that represents backward transportation thinking and our worsening air quality?

I recommend that we think about renaming the entire town.

Any suggestions for names for the entire town? Names that would honor Martin Luther King? King Town? King Hill Town? Martin Luther King Junior City? Town of Martin Luther King Junior Hill? I know of no other town, city or state named for King, yet every last town and city has a street named for him.

Just brainstorming ......would like to know what others think.

Well, this seems to be a very long, drawn-out discussion, so I can only wonder if people are still reading comments at this point.

I feel compelled to express my opinion on this, though, since Ruby so quickly put me on the spot a week or so ago asking what I thought about the renaming right outside of council chambers and in front of a few other folks (who I guessed were supportive of the renaming). First, I'll boldly say that I do NOT support the renaming of Aiport Rd to MLK, Jr. Blvd. And I have many reasons why. First, I agree with the residents along the road, businesses and persons alike, that this renaming is a pain to all involved. My road was renamed and renumbered SEVEN YEARS AGO -- before I even moved in -- and I STILL get mis-addressed mail referencing the old name and house numbers. No matter how much effort and expense a person puts in to these address changes, it's always a hassle. Isn't this why legistlation was just passed to allow people to change cell phone providers and yet keep their mobile phone number? But I don't live on Airport Road, so I hope those residents and businesses keep making their voices heard if they are against this.

Now on to the history issue. Ya know, that airport has been there a long time and has a lot of history. More history and importance than Mr. King? Maybe not on a national level, but still quite a bit of history in this little town. Sure, the airport may be closing in the not-so-distant future, but that doesn't mean we should just forget it and pretend like it was never there. After all, where is the "Merritt Mill" on Merritt Mill Road? Do "Rose" and "Mary" still live at either end of Rosemary Street? And how many people really take Old Greensboro Highway to get to Greensboro anymore? Why aren't we changing all of these names to something more current or honor-bestowing? Is it because these roads aren't "important" enough? Or would it be too much hassle for individual residents, since obviously businesses don't matter in this town?

Honestly, though, I'd rather see the Town start over and reconsider the whole road-renaming thing. I've read a number of posts that suggest the same thing I believe -- why would we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. by renaming a ROAD? (...no matter how much of a thoroughfare?) Renaming a park would be better. Renaming a library would be better. Naming a new facility or building would be better. I'll even throw out a not-yet-mentioned idea -- why not rename the plaza in front of the Franklin Street Post Office? (Isn't "Old Post Office Building" its official name? How historically significant is that?) Here is a space with immense history and importance, especially in the Civil Rights movement and other social and political gatherings, and yet it has no recognized identity or name. Why not give a name to this important public space in the heart of Chapel Hill? And why not name it for someone who stood for the types of things this space has been known for as well?

So that's my suggestion. I would love to see a revitalized gathering space for all of Chapel Hill -- the "Marthin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Plaza" (I'll leave the exact wording for a well-chosen committee of local citizens, something I'm sure Town Council will appoint appropriately). And I would also love to see the Town use any money they would have spent on renaming Airport Road into refurbishing this plaza into the beautiful and provocative gathering space that it longs to be once again. Heck, maybe we could even ask Airport Road businesses to donate half the money they would have spent on new stationary and business cards to the project -- that's a savings for them, too, ...not to mention a tax write-off.

Thanks for the link, Eric. It reinforces my feeling that those opposing the MLK re-naming do so because they are not comfortable with honoring Dr. King. I believe this is due to the racism that still pervades our culture, and is reinforced by the negligent education system in which we aren't taught the importance of civil rights in general, or the incredible sacrifices of activists in the 50's and 60's to improve the lives of every American, regardless of race.

From the N.Y. Times article: "...a white supremacist Web site is praising the Council's change of heart. Virtually all of the protesters are white, as are most of the 11,000 people who live in Zephyrhills, which is 35 miles northeast of Tampa and known for the bottled spring water that carries its name, with the slogan "Pure Water from a Pure Place.""

Ruby, can you for a moment imagine that the NY times article might only be reporting on the community named in the article and not necessarily the rest of us? Your sweeping generalization is not an accurate reflection of your generally thoughtful commentary and makes it difficult to have a meaningful discussion. Part of what MLK's "I have a dream" message says to me is not to draw quick superficial decisions about anyone, but rather to take the time to know them. Knowing the "content of someone's character" does not happen in a few minutes but requires an open minded sustained interaction where quick conclusions and labelling people dont' occur.

I was looking for a building on Airport Drive, but due to name confusion drove up and down Airport Road looking for the address that wasn't there.

I know the name of Airport is scared to history, but must we have two of them?

I have a proposal: why not change the name of one of them to say the name of a person as important as say Ben Franklin. Since it's to be an honor, the road renamed should be the longer more traveled road.

How about changing Airport Road to Martin Luther King Blvd? Then no one would be confused anymore.

BTW Airport Drive actually takes you to the Airport while Airport Road merely passes by the Airport.

Big article in today's New York Times about one Florida town's decision to rename a street to MLK, Jr. Street -- and then to revoke that decision.


I didn't know the NAACP had selected Airport Road as their choice for commemorating Dr. King. It should be their call. But if any NAACP members are reading this post, I'd vote for the suggestion of naming the public library after Dr. King instead of a road. Anita--I checked my local map (3 years old) and Airport Road is officially named. It starts at Franklin St. and ends just past Weaver Dairy Road.

And speaking for myself, pompous sort that I am, I'd much rather have my name attached to a library or community park.

Posted by: Nick Eberlein at 7:50 AM 05/04/04

sounds good to me.........eberlein library has a nice ring to it.

but seriously, I do like anita's ideas of conserving funds by choosing another thing to be named---something other than an existing road with established homes and businesses. this town, contrary to popular belief, does not have money to burn.

Another choice is to talk about how to fund such projects......commercial real estate helps out here--and we have precious little of it. How about a couple of nice big box retail complexes on the new Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard to help pay for the new name..........

My personal view is that a major thoroughfare should be named after MLK (I'm not really concerned as to whether that road is Airport Road or something else). It is unfortunate that we cannot have a civil discussion (respecting the pro and con) around this naming, which is significant in its positive symbolism, but so unnecessarily volatile.

The only comments I would make are: 1. We should not end up with two roads in C.H. named after MLK, and 2. Seems ashamed that we cannot share a connecting road between Chapel Hill and Carroboro with the MLK name (that could be real symbolizm)...

But, most will go with the Council's judgement on this, as they should.

Regarding Bobby's idea of a Chapel Hill-Carrboro corridor as a candidate for renaming, the notion of Estes Drive, a primary corridor connecting Carrboro and CH was floated as a possibility, but the folks at the NAACP expressed a strong preference for Airport as being a more significant facility. As well, the 54 by-pass was mentioned, but that idea ran afoul of NCDOT regs prohibiting more than one regional state highway in a region with the same name, conflicting with Durham's MLK Blvd. Should the current discussions fail to bear fruit, I'm sure that we over in Carrboro would be glad to reopen the issue, but our primary interest is to respect the wishes of those who are spearheading the effort.



I just can't think of any place that makes more sense for re-naming than Airport Road. It's a main artery of the town which elevates the significance of the name. The fact that it will symbolically be Carolina North's address is also great.

As far as the cost to folks living there, it seems that there aren't really THAT many folks who will be impacted compared to a lot of other streets (like NC 54). In addition, since nothing else will get the "Airport Road" name, I'd be surprised if the post office didn't keep delivering mail there even after the first year.

To those who fear the racially-charged discussion: get over it. You may need to look deeper within to find out why you really oppose changing the street from being named after an airport you have never used to to being named after man whose movement helped save your souls.

Remember that when Fred Battle presented to the Council ( http://www.herald-sun.com/orange/10-472072.html ), it was a white person in the audice who first hurled the "Racist" epithet. ( http://orangepolitics.org/archives/000236.html#003346 ) Why?

I have no problem with a name change, but have a major problem with the race baiting going on around this issue.

It's the white folks who are doing the "race-baiting," Todd. See above. I too wish they would stop it and start discussing the merits of this idea, which are many.

So what are the merits? I cringe at the thought of naming, or renaming, any strip of asphalt after Dr. King. Call me ABR: Anything But a Road. Name the new Southern Park, the new Aquatics Center, rename whatever civic building or place you desire after Dr. King, but please not an ugly five-lane stretch of yeccch!

And the argument that the future MLK road (Airport) would be so much more worthy of the man and his accomplishments than the current MLK seems to run in parallel logic to that of a billboard exec. "It's all about location!" Sigh. ABR.

I'd be happy to have it renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard. Airport Road always seemed particularly unimaginative. It's no Jones Sausage Road, that's for sure.

I'd also be happy to have it renamed Malcom X Boulevard, or Medgar Evers Boulevard, or Emmitt Till Boulevard. Especially Emmitt Till Boulevard.

I want a street that reminds us that many of us are the descendants of murderers and chattel slaveholders, and that good people gave their lives so that we could come to our f-ing senses. As Michael Eric Dyson points out in I May Not Get There With You, the American establishment has succeeded in taming the memory of Martin Luther King, who ought to be remembered as a courageous and radical man. Dyson thinks he isn't remembered that way anymore, but has been re-cast as a harmless and unprovocative symbol.

If it came down to it,and some of these other choices were offered, I might -- might -- choose to have someone turn onto that road and get shaken up by its name:

"My God, that's the kid who was killed by white murderers with the blessing of their community, for whistling at a white girl, something he probably didn't do." I can imagine a lot of family discussions sparked by a street name like that.

But I'm happy to have it named Martin Luther King Blvd, too. Airport Road sucks.

By the way, the place to get new stationery -- great service, good price -- is VIP Printing, right around the corner from Wellspring. So quit complaining.

If we want our road names to make political statements, why not honor our own local heros? Seems to me that using MLK for a road in every city is reductive. He was a great man, but many other people of color have played important roles in our community. Although like Tom says, I'm not sure how much honor we do by attaching someone's name to a strip of asphalt.

terri is right. this street thing is just overdone. there is really no honor in being another city to have a Martin Luther King street, especially as we already have one. Perhaps we are aiming to be the first to have two such streets. Not necessary if you ask me.

but to honor King, with a building, a park, anything else yet to be built or at least yet to be named----great idea.

come to think of it, very very few public libraries that I know of are named for anyone. College libraries, yes, public libraries no. The library would be an excellent namesake, and would not cause the kind of expense that the renaming of a road would cause.

Let's be a little more original than to just go with another road named after the same great man that gets thus honored in every city, town and village in the country.

Pontine & Terri,

I do agree with you that naming a stretch of road after someone is a nominal honor at best, but I don't think the NAACP's request is something they brainstormed unoriginally and on a whim. If what I've gathered from hearing the NAACP's side of the debate is correct, it seems to me that they are simply trying to reverse the national paradigm of having an MLK St. — a paradigm Chapel Hill is a contributor to. Here in town, MLK is only 2 blocks long, accesses onto only one other road, and is an address for subsidized homeowners. It's not a road used by everybody like Airport is. The way I see it, if a similar debate was happening in say, New York City, the leaders asking for change would want MLK to be a main artery through Manhattan, and not just a few blocks of asphalt through a project in Harlem.

It's ironic that MLK fought during his life for the brotherhood of all men, so when he dies they put his name on a couple random streets through the once Jim Crow-sanctioned and now socially de facto "black" parts of towns and cities. That's what the NAACP wants to change, I think — if there's an MLK road or street in town, have it be a thoroughfare we all use, not a strip about 20 cars go in and out of each day or, as Chris Rock puts it, people run away from.

But, like Terri, I still prefer that if it were named after a civil rights leader that it be one of our own local men or women. And speaking for myself, pompous sort that I am, I'd much rather have my name attached to a library or community park. I'd prefer people invoke while learning or having a picnic instead of screaming from behind the wheel at senior citizens a car lenght ahead of them. But the NAACP has put their time, energy, and money into this effort so more power to them and I hope they get what they are asking for.

*Has anyone noticed the overwhelming number of letters to the editor in both papers from people that oppose changing Airport to MLK? Sheesh, I feel compelled now to write one just to balance things out, I hope others do the same if they have the time to do so. Most often people mention that the Airport is part of the town's "history." I mean, sure it is, but so was my birth, so simply being a part of the town's historical record sure as hell isn't reason enough to be memorialized. Who the hell's ever used it or hitched a ride out of town from there? Am I just an out-of-the-loop prole, or am I right to say that HW Airport (if were to discuss its importance to the town, not regional health care) basically contributes f***-all to Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents as a whole? I'm not knocking its importance to the state, but we're talking about TOWN roads here.


Like Nick, I don't really buy this "history" argument for saving the name of Airport Road. Growing up here I always wondered what the hell that road was named after. Even as a student at UNC it barely dawned on me that there was a functioning airport there.

What is "Airport Road" supposed to make me remember? I have no memories or feelings connected to that name from my three decades in and around Chapel Hill.

is the road even officially "airport road?" I thought it was actually columbia street until some nebulous point, then highway 86 after that point. At one time I remember being very confused by everyone telling me to take "airport road" when there was not a single sign calling the road by that name. Maybe it's changed now, I don't really notice the road signs anymore.

but as far as renaming the road, it's really disappointing to me that we can't even talk about this matter without someone having opinions about what that says about our own personal racial views. My opinion--let's name a new road MLK, let's name a new building MLK, let's change the name of the Carrboro Century Center, or the Chapel Hill Town Hall, or a park, or let's erect a memorial to Dr. King, or something similar. Why must it be a road and why must it be an existing road? Think of how many maps there are to be changed (both printed and online) , how many directions will be changed, how many addresses will be changed and how much confusion it can cause to visitors to our town. To be worried about those things is not to be a racist, it's being a realist. Personally I think road names should only be changed to make finding one's way around easier, not more complicated, or in the rare cases where the current name is offensive.

I think we should direct our efforts on the environmental front to naming a parking deck after Rachel Carson. Then we could accomplish great things on the free expression issue by naming a shopping center after Lenny Bruce. All the world will know the depth of Chapel Hill's commitment to these issues.

I love ironic namings too, Walt. My favorite is the dining hall at the University of Colorado (Boulder), the Alferd Packer Grill. Packer was the member of the Donner party who survived by questionable dietary practice.

Airport Road without an airport on it is pretty ironic and confusing to be sure.

BTW in the beginning of his novel "Reuben, Reuben," satirist Peter De Vries notes that the names in his fictional town are named after things they replaced. Say, 100 Oaks was a place that once had 100 Oaks but no more. Clear Creek Road would be a development in which the creek was no longer clear and in fact had been put underground. You get the idea. Does that work in Orange County?

I was interested to read Mark's comments above. When one was watching the forum on TV, the prior "racist" exchange was not noted. It seemed as if the speaker had come out to say, "you sir are a racist" without provocation. We did not hear the other part of their exchange.

Call me a whimp, but after this speaker's presentation, I would have been scared to death to have presented some other view about Airport Road and MLK. I'm glad I wasn't signed up to speak to the contrary after him! (Although I do support Airport Road being renamed to MLK). I don't like feeling that way.

I think it is great to name Airport Road after MLK. But not because I was pressured into doing it because I might be considered a "racist" if I didn't.

I can't believe anyone who thinks renaming airport to MLK is not ideal is being labeled a racist.

I am actually most disappointed that our "progressive" council would tolerate vindictive and hostile remarks to the audience during a public forum. I always apply a colorblind standard to public behavior and can't believe our elected officials don't.

If I were lucky enough I would prefer a national park, a stream, even a busway be named after me rather than a car road or highway. Even a UNC building that is used to teach undergrads in would be better than a car road.

why don't we name a the coal burning power plant after him. Wouldn't the bell tower on campus be better than a road.

Or how about MLK Town Hall???


Don't be so quick to blame the Council for the exchange that occurred at Monday's meeting. First, the word racist and accompanying accusation was screamed by a person from the audience who had already spoken against the renaming proposal. It did not come from the speaker.

Second, immediately after the exchange began, Mayor Pro Temp Wiggins grabbed her gavel and brought the chamber to order. After doing so she admonished the speaker to direct comments to the Council and not to engage the audience. Which he was not doing until "You're a racist" was screamed at him.

Prior to the exchange between audience and speaker, the speaker was expressing his disappointment in what he perceived to be an inappropriate subtext underlying some of the prior comments -- albeit with strong language, but certainly not hostile or vindictive language. Was that inappropriate? I don't think so. He deserves his opinion and had the right to express it in that forum in the way he did. The Council takes comments at public hearings -- all comments and gives them the wieght they deserve. His observations may be right, they may be wrong. I'm looking forward to the rest of the public hearing.

Council has taken no action, and has consequently applied NO standard (colorblind or otherwise) to any part of the question of whether to rename or not to rename. I have personally commented that so far, the Don't Rename arguments are, in my opinion, fairly weak. But Note: I was also the Councilmember who proposed further notification of Airport Rd residents (of which I am one) and to hold the public hearing open until May 24th to solicit further comments.

Signs and related items are manufactured here in the town by personnel of the Public Works Department, Streets division. Steve England, long-time town employee and member of the Black Public Works Association, has worked in Streets for years and would be one of the best people to talk with about the materials and labor needed to re-name a street.

A minute ago I saw a bunch of comments here but now there's only one. What happened?

Re: "What's their problem … I thought this was a no-brainer"

— Well Ruby, as far as I can tell, public reaction to this particular issue can be as easily explained as various others discussed on this site: people in this town are all for the cause (whatever that might be) until they have to pony up for it. Although I was pretty disgusted and frightened that, according to the DTH - http://www.dailytarheel.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2004/04/20/40851962cfd4e, Airport Rd. business owner Dave Walker heckled Fred Battle and called him a racist, I still think (hope) that race has little to do with this and most of the opposition stems from folks' unwillingness to be inconvenienced and lose a little change. Progressivism in Chapel Hill is done on quite a thin dime.

Personally, I hope the name of the road is changed. Martin Luther King Street in Chapel Hill is about two blocks long, has a few subsidized homes on it and is across from a cemetery. That's not much of an homage to the man. I know the airport in Airport Rd. is historically significant, but come on, damn near every road going into or within downtown is named after UNC who's who or something or other. MLK did a lot more for this town and nation than the airport did (has anyone ever used that place, or tried to go on its grounds without being hustled off?) — he even came here in 1960 to speak out against racist University practices and led a march to Hill Hall. If CNorth is built, have Airport Rd. be the thoroughfare thru that campus, it will be cool for the students and staff to learn about Horace Williams and the UNC flyboys by walking on the pavement inside the campus. I think it's more important that children see MLK's name every day and learn about him and what he did, rather than travel down a street with a nondescript name and named after a nondescript aviation terminal that shuttles college personnel to and fro when the pilots take a break from crashing their planes into parking lots or middle school football fields.

*Note: I'll defer to the NAACP and its leaders who have experienced segregation while growing up here on their choice of a road name, but I would really love it if it was named after some local CR leaders like Ed Caldwell or R.D. Smith (even though he already has a school named for him).

— Oh yeah, the council's agenda for 4/19 said that it would cost more than $30K to change all the road signs from Airport to MLK. Is this factoring in fees to the state and costs to change databases and town records? Aren't road signs made by the same people that make license plates? Meaning labor costs are zero. How much does it really cost to screw some more stamped metal rectangles onto poles?


"— Oh yeah, the council's agenda for 4/19 said that it would cost more than $30K to change all the road signs from Airport to MLK. Is this factoring in fees to the state and costs to change databases and town records? Aren't road signs made by the same people that make license plates? Meaning labor costs are zero. How much does it really cost to screw some more stamped metal rectangles onto poles?" quote from Nick Eberlein


oh we can only wish it were so simple--by the time the state accounts for the administrative costs involved, those screws, metal rectangles, and poles, as well as the labor, probably make those signs rank right up there with the Pentagon's toilet seats or Enron's gold faucets.

Reporting from the Council meeting:

There were two primary objections presented last night regarding the renaming of Airport Rd.

1) The cost inherent in changing your address -- stationary, business cards, etc. The point was made that it may be especially burdensome to the elderly.

Response offered by Mayor Pro Temp Wiggins et al. was that 1) Council can make the change effective at some date in the future to allow people to use up their stationary, etc. and 2) USPS will continue delivering mail to Airport Rd addressed items for up to 12 months.


2) The History. Airport Rd is named after an airport – once the largest airport owned by a university – Navy officers from UNC were trained there – WWII significance.

One of the responses to this was – there will still be an Airport Dr. that will likely increase in significance through the development of Carolina North (Councilmember Verkerk notes though, that today it’s just a driveway). Another response begs consideration and comparisons of the histories involved with the 2 names, with consideration given to the value of renaming THE primary Chapel Hill thoroughfare after our country's most important civil rights leader.

The hearing was recessed until May 24. All Airport Rd addresses will receive notice of the hearing. Council will likely vote on it that night.

Ruby- You made the following statement "It's the white folks who are doing the “race-baiting,” Todd. See above. I too wish they would stop it and start discussing the merits of this idea, which are many." I wish you could realize how racist that comes off sounding.

In regards to the question about the significance of Airport Rd. The Airport here was used to train many fighter pilots for WWII. I suppose we don't need to honor them though. They certainly didn't do anything important. Did you know that Gerald Ford was trained here? The simple fact is that renaming a road is assanine. It doesn't matter what you rename it. Why not a new piece of construction and/or something more meaningful? I thought Chapel Hill was supposed to be progressive in its thinking. I think really the only way to solve this issue fairly is to put it on the ballot. Let the people decide what is right for them.


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