Thursday, June 10, 2004

Why rename Airport Road?

For those of you that don't watch news of Chapel Hill very closely, there's a lot of heat right now over the Town Council's likely renaming of Airport Road after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It's been an odd discussion, with Carrboro wanting to get in on the act by having Estes Dr. Extension (which runs through both towns) renamed instead, with residents and businesses of Airport Road having a personal and financial stake in the decision and feeling that this is a done deal (probably rightly) without their really having any input and no doubt some (muted) objection to having anything named for Dr. King at all. Personally I think there's merit to the Estes Dr. Extension idea - its current name is kinda dumb and while it gets LOTS of traffic, there are only a dozen or so residences and a church on it that would have to worry about changing their address. That idea apparently went nowhere.

There is an organized move among conservatives (the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project) to get something significant named for Ronald Reagan in every county of the country. The NAACP and other groups appear to be trying to do the same for Dr. King. I think both are asinine but for different reasons. You can probably guess my objection to the first. My objection to the second is that I believe it creates an impression that the only African-American worth remembering is Dr. King. Where are the landmarks named for W. E. B. DuBois or Andrew Young or John Lewis or Julian Bond? Sure, in other communities they might be considered too radical but in Chapel Hill? I know CH is getting less and less liberal as it becomes more a bedroom community for the execs at RTP, but I still think it would be possible. Why not someone local like Howard Lee or Libba Cotton? Heck, I'd vote for naming a Chapel Hill landmark for Howard Lee any day! We named a major thoroughfare after Chancellor Fordham and a bridge after James Taylor - why not a name a road after the first black mayor in Chapel Hill and the current head of the state Department of Education?

Personally I don't like renaming existing stuff - we build enough new things that it makes more sense to me to honor people by naming new things after them from their inception. If you want to name something after Dr. King, name the planned third high school after him (since the second HS was named "East Chapel Hill High", there's obviously a dearth of ideas for names out there). Better yet, name it after Howard Lee, who has done so much locally for education. Just leave the existing stuff alone.

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