Thursday, January 10, 2008

Where Do You Stand?

Many Fayetteville citizens will celebrate the life, work, and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the annual “Days of Recommitment.” Two weeks of events organized by the University of Arkansas MLK Committee and the Northwest Arkansas MLK Planning Committee are planned on the theme “Living the Dream in the 21st Century: Where do You Stand?”

That's a good question, and we are likely to have an opportunity to answer it next Tuesday. On the City Council agenda is a resolution to change the name of Sixth Street to Martin Luther King Boulevard. Alderman Lioneld Jordan is the lead sponsor, joined by Aldermen Shirley Lucas and Nancy Allen. Already the opposition is forming, and its source is no surprise.

Back on 2002, the City Council named Sixth Street as "honorary" Martin Luther King Boulevard, and Mayor Dan Coody made a big deal of unveiling the new street signs five years ago. The idea was to give businesses time to change the address on their stationery before making the name change permanent. Now Coody says the "honorary" name change is enough to honor King without making it permanent. He sent his finance director Paul Becker to complain that a name change would "put a burden on" businesses that will have costs associated with advertising, alerting their customer base and suppliers of the change, printing costs, and the element of confusion an address change can bring.

It seems to me that five years is enough. I'd be very surprised if any of the businesses on Honorary Martin Luther King Boulevard had a five year supply of stationery laid up, many of the fine establishments on Sixth Street opened after 2002, and the Post Office would continue to deliver to either address for another year. Mayor Coody said the original proposal met some opposition because "there were some people who just did not want to name it after Martin Luther King Jr." That is still the case, but now some cloak their real objections to honoring Dr. King as the terrible burden of printing new business cards or complaining about the process because the resolution did not go through more meetings and notices to let businesses know about something that began five years ago.

John Colbert, principal of Holcomb Elementary School and a member of the MLK Committee, said renaming the street is the right thing to do. “It’s like when they decided to integrate the high school: They did it without court orders because that is just right. Fayetteville is an aggressive city that leads other cities. In a situation like this, I think Fayetteville will send a very strong message. It will show that we, as a community, believe in the principles that Dr. King stood for, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about the man himself; it’s about what he stood for: peace, justice and fairness for all. It’s a symbol that any city would like to show that they embrace. Fayetteville is a place that really embraces that.”

It is the right thing to do, and John Colbert is right that "Fayetteville will send a very strong message." Come Tuesday, we'll see whether our city's message is to proudly honor Dr. King's ultimate sacrifice for justice and equality or to fold under opposition from closet racists in business suits.

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