Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Martin Luther Xing in Lafayette?

Here in Lafayette, we have a very interesting debate going on. It involves everything that defines the city: dim politicians, confusing streets and an inappropriately high degree of dispute over a superficial solution to a pressing issue. Here's the breakdown:

--There is a movement to rename one of the major highways that runs through the city after Martin Luther King Jr.

--There is an equal movement to keep the road's current name, Evangeline Thruway, because it supposedly has major historical relevance.

--The council wants to dismiss the issue offhand, because it accuses its two African-American councilmen (who represent the side of town where the road is located) of playing the race card.

--Though the two councilmen fight valiantly for their sometimes drastically underfunded districts, they do play the race card to almost comical extremes.

--Proponents for the change argue (correctly) that King was a great man and deserves an appropriate memorial in his honor, such as a major thoroughfare.

--Oh, and there is already a Martin Luther King Drive in Lafayette.

I genuinely don't know what to make of this. Both sides are really making asses of themselves: the anti-change movement by arguing that the name Evangeline is more resonant with 21st-century Americans than Martin Luther King, and the pro-change movement by ignoring the current MLK Drive and giving fodder to those who already accuse them of racial provocation.

Like most of Lafayette's road problems, the only answer to this one is go back in time (which seems easy enough, given the 19th-century mentality that pervades the area) and rename the highway instead of the other street. Short of that, here are a few free suggestions for both sides. If we work together, maybe we'll be too busy affecting positive change to wring each other's necks over differences and stereotypes:

--Rename something besides a street. We already have the Martin Luther King Center, so how about dedicating a new park? Lafayette's green space is endangered as it is. Or, name one of the new UL buildings, Martin Luther King Hall. With the current wave of civil-rights sympathy generated by John Hinson's awful anti-King column, that should be a lock. In any case, what could be a better legacy for Dr. King than to dedicate to him a place where people really can come together?

--Rename Willow Street, another huge thoroughfare that intersects with Evangeline Thruway. This idea is already being bandied about, and (if nothing else) would ease confusion among our non-French-speaking travelers who currently wonder why Willow Street suddenly becomes "Rue des Saules." Another advantage of this location is that, unlike the situation with Evangeline Thruway, Willow Street won't have its name defended by George Lucas fans who insist that the 1988 movie must be remembered for all time.

--Let's have a Rosa Parkway! With her recent passing, Rosa Parks is fresh in our memories. And not only is she underrepresented here, but naming a road after her would remind everyone that the street is where she made her most famous protest. Logistically, it would solve another as-yet-unaddressed problem: if the Thruway were named for MLK, then the current Martin Luther King Drive would have to change its name, requiring all of its residents to obtain new deeds, driver's licenses, phone books, mailing labels, change-of-address forms, etc. On top of that, the city of Lafayette isn't known for changing its database particularly quickly; chances are, emergency response and delivery businesses would have trouble, just as they currently do in other recently reconfigured parts of town. And I can imagine that most of that street's residents (who probably fought for the MLK name in the first place) would not be happy about giving it up. Naming the highway after Parks would eliminate redundancy and isn't likely to disrupt too many residents.

--Short of that, just name the highway after King, without changing the name of the current MLK Drive. Hey, Lafayette's good at duplicating street names! Just look at Camellia Boulevard, Camellia Drive and Camellia Circle. This solution, while arguably the most counterproductive listed here, is the one that would resonate the most with the Consolidated Government.

--Leave everything as is. Then the City-Parish Government can go back to its normal business of pitting Northside versus Southside on every other issue.

I agree that Civil Rights leaders deserve far more recognition than Martin Luther King Drive. But if we're searching for another way to honor our civil-rights heroes, let's at least be intelligent about it. How about, say, addressing the poverty and inequity that accompanies those roads? That isn't likely to change on its own, regardless of what the street sign says.


jenny said...

you should go there tell them. who knows, you might get elected president :)

it always amuses me when adults cannot figure out or agree on the simplest stuff. it should scare me, shouldn't it.

Nick said...

I've written about this debate on my site and had a letter published in the Times of Acadiana last week on this subject. My main opposition is the fact that William and Benjamin are trying to force this upon the residents and business owners of Willow Street, even though neither Williams or Benjamin would have to pay for the address and advertisement changes, the propery owners would. This is something that could easily be changed the democratic way, have the property owners along Willow Street sign a petition.

The best idea I've heard is to wait for the I-49 by pass to be constructed (though we'll probably be dead before it's completed) and name that after King or Rosa Parks. However, Chris Williams doesn't want to hear those arguements. He just wants to make the claim that anyone opposed to the council forcing an immediate name change is racist.

Nick said...

Another note about Chris Williams, my mom taught his son and daughter. She always felt sorry from them b/c she said it seemed her parents cared more about politiking than their children's education and progress in school.

a rose is a rose said...

i'm not a resident as a matter of fact, i'm a yankee, BUT the name evangeline is so damn beautiful. it is THE name i think of when i hear your state mentioned. the idea for naming a PARK is a much better idea

Phillip said...

ian, this whole debate, as you mentioned in your last paragraph, is one tick away from being utterly pointless in context. the only debates we should be having concerning roads is which ones to expand, build and/or resurface.

i don't understand why people at every level of government debate as hotly over poverty and health care. i can't think of anything more important and frankly i nothing else should be allowed debate prior to a solution to helping the poor and inform. that includes terrorism, especially.

Cajun Tiger said...

I agree with your last paragraph that if people spent as much time trying to fix real problems as they do trying to name things after people, a lot more would get done.

I had the same problem with the Ronald Reagan project. Their goal was to have a road, a building, park or something in every city named after Ronald Reagan. Now while I think he was one of the greatest presidents, I think the complete waste of time and government resources to accomplish such a task would go compeletly against everything he stood for.

Wait...did I just say I agree with something Ian said...this Iraqi air must be making me soft ;)

Neil Shakespeare said...

Gosh yes, you gotta have a 'Rosa Parkway'. that from the Longfellow poem? Wasn't she an Arcadian/Cajun? Is that why it's called that now?

Ian McGibboney said...

I have no problem with Evangeline; I know she's a big deal. Indeed, she has an entire parish/county named after her (Evangeline Parish), a school, a town, a roadway, a racetrack (Evangeline Downs), and countless other things, including Evangeline Maid bread, a Lafayette product that I say in all seriousness is the best sliced white bread in the country. Evangeline is remembered, believe me. All I'm saying is that they could come up with a better argument than that Evangeline will be forgotten if they change the name of the Thruway. It won't.

Nick said...

Don't forget the small town of Evangeline, where the very first oil well in Louisiana was spudded in 1901. I know how liberals love oil.

Evangeline Main bread is the best bread. When I lived in Texas, I would buy my bread when visiting my parents and/or fiance and bring it back with me.

Cajun Tiger said...

mmmmmmm...PB&J on Evangeline Maid white bread...a care package containing as much sent to Iraq would be nice...hint hint hint ;) LOL