Monday, February 5, 2007

Dr. King Deserves Better!


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2nd Street is not a Boulevard

Dear Concerned Citizens,


Charlotte, North Carolina has finally joined the thousands of other cities around the world that have made a conscious decision to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights hero. On the surface, it sounds like good news for our city, under the surface, the process, and subsequent decision harbor ignorance, one super ego, and apparent collusion. It is for these reasons that we as concerned citizens need to band together to reverse such a shameful and narrow-minded decision.


The official renaming of one of the shortest streets in Charlotte, NC -- 2nd Street/Uptown -- took place on Saturday, January 13, 2007, amidst a huge parade and fanfare celebrating the birth of Dr. King. How short is 2nd Street? It is less than one mile in length. To add insult to injury, it dead-ends on both ends. Most enlightened and concerned citizens (Black, White, and Other) will ask, how is that possible in what is suppose to be a very progressive and proud city? Well, it actually started back in the early 1990’s when a group of citizens attempted to change the name of Beatties Ford Road – A main thoroughfare through the Black community – in favor and honor of Dr. King. This attempt failed because had this group done their homework, they would have quickly learned that it is very difficult, and sometimes nearly impossible to change the name of a street that already has historic significance. In the case of Beatties Ford Road, it is in honor of John Beatty – one of the early Scottish-Irish to migrate here from Philadelphia, PA. Today, a good piece of his land is African-American owned or occupied. This current debacle is the brainchild of African-American Councilman James A. "Smudgy" Mitchell, Jr..


One would rationalize that an elected city official (especially) would not repeat the embarrassment of nearly 15 years ago, however, low and behold, Councilman “Smudgy” Mitchell followed one mistake with an even bigger one. The truth of the matter is he quickly forced the vote (Of renaming 2nd Street) upon other concerned City Council members. This was after he suffered a major (and national) embarrassment by attempting to rename local streets that already bear the name of other historic persons or events. This same mistake occurred over a decade ago. Some of the streets proposed for renaming were:



Stonewall Street – Most likely named in honor of Gen. Stonewall Jackson. (Wife moved here after the Civil War)

Freedom Drive – Thought to have been named in honor of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence


Kings Drive – Thought to have been named in honor of King George III (Husband of Queen Charlotte), and

Brevard Street – Named in honor of Dr. Ephraim Brevard (Signer on the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.

Note: If you have credible information to the contrary, please submit with reference(s).

City Staff members were also looking into renaming East/West Blvd. -- which is an ideal street. Councilman “Smudgy” Mitchell, unfortunately, quickly dismissed that option because – As I was told by a City Staff member -- “it is too long and it extends into the county”. This street would have been ideal for the renaming of the new MLK Blvd. because:






1. Unlike 2nd Street, East/West Blvd. is indeed a “real” boulevard, i.e. a very wide (three to six lanes) and long street (approximately seven miles),

2. It has an exit off Interstate 77, a major thoroughfare from South Carolina to Ohio,

3. Part of it goes around the Charlotte Douglas International Airport (One of the largest airports in the U.S.),

4. Two major (multi-racial) festivals take place along that street annually,

5. The street ends at “Freedom Park”, and

6. It is highly segregated, mostly whites on the East side and mostly Blacks on the West side. Giving the street one name will literally connect both communities and thus complement Dr. King’s “Dream”.

Councilman “Smudgy” Mitchell discouraged city staff members from further investigating this highly visible and main street because – In my opinion -- he would have had to share his “glory” with County Commissioners. As I mentioned earlier, part of West Blvd. extends into the county. Below is an excerpt from an email that I received from Councilman “Smudgy” Mitchell --regarding the MLK Blvd. vote.

----- Original Message -----

Sent: Saturday, March 25, 2006 8:58 AMSubject:
Re: Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. -- 2nd Street? Charlotte, NC-The Truth vs Grapevine

Thank you for your e-mail. I need to correct the bad assumption you based your e-mail on how the 2nd street was renamed to Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. In a previous e-mail you communicated the "grapevine" told you Wachovia selected 2nd street the "grapevine" was WRONG. Here are the facts on what criteria was used to by the Charlotte City Council.

1). City staff reviewed about 6 different streets including (Stonewall, Freedom Drive, Kings Drive, and the new section around Mid-Town Development.

2). We wanted to select a City owned street therefore not requiring another elected body to make the decision. ( I-485 was considered however Raleigh said they already had selected six citizens already to use.)
Please note the obvious omission of East/West Blvd. in item one [1]. In addition, he states above that Wachovia had nothing to do with the renaming of 2nd Street. I have listed below the exact wording from the official City Council meeting that took place on Monday, February 27, 2006.“Councilmember Mitchell said I will explain the reason why. First of all we did talk to the second family, Wachovia, and they are okay with it. Pat Mumford assured me of that. -- Ref: City Council meeting minutes, Monday February 27, 2006, Minute Book 123, Page 545.” The purpose of my email was to help steer Councilman “Smudgy” Mitchell in the right direction on this matter and thereby creating a win-win situation for himself, Dr. King, Dr. King’s dignity, the dignity of Charlotte residences’, and the city of Charlotte’s dignity.

To my surprise, his response was mostly defensive and condescending. His negative response lead me to become very suspicious as to the "real" events leading to Councilman "Smudgy" Mitchell's rash and degrading decision to rename one of the shortest streets in Charlotte, NC, in honor of Dr. King -- an internationally renowned Noble Peace Prize winner. My investigation revealed that one of the other pro 2nd Street to MLK Blvd. Council members, Patrick Mumford, is an employee of Wachovia Bank. If you have not heard the news, this bank had to reveal that it profited from the past institution of slavery in order to conduct business in Chicago, and other major U.S. cities. To no surprise, the MLK Blvd. runs right past the bank’s headquarters in Uptown Charlotte. What an ingenious, cheap, and sleazy method of buying your way out of such an embarrassing past.

“We have much to regret in our history, and slavery and the treatment of blacks is at the top of the list. But cheap apologies only dilute authentic shame and genuine remorse. What makes these particular apologies cheap is that none of the apologizers really suggests doing anything more than trying to rewrite history and bask in applause. Wachovia offers no reparations, at least not yet, nor interest-free loans, free checking or even an old toaster to the descendants of slaves.” -- Wesley Pruden

A few non-Black Council members voiced their concerns about hastily renaming such a short and non-dignified street in honor of Dr. King. Below is an excerpt from an email sent by one of those concerned Councilpersons:“

----- Original Message -----

From: P. Kinsey
To: J. Whipple
Sent: Thursday, March 09, 2006 10:00 PM
Subject:
Re: Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. -- 2nd Street?

I wish so much that I had heard from you earlier. I too felt that Second Street was not exactly the right street for which to honor Dr. King. I felt that some street, road, etc. with a higher profile would be more appropriate. This was too important an issue to act hastily and I fear that is what we did. Thanks for writing. Pk”

In addition, the neighborhood that the MLK Blvd. passes through is the most prolific link to Charlotte’s Black Heritage. It is Old Brooklyn today because in the 1940’s and 1950’s, there was a large migration of African-Americans [Formerly Colored/Black folks] to move here from Brooklyn, NY, to work in the textile industry -- which was booming during those decades. Most of the firsts for African-Americans were born and incubated in that neighborhood to include: Churches, the library, movie theater, YMCA, funeral homes, schools, grocery stores, and other businesses. In the late 1960’s approximately 7,000 residents, 1,500 structures and 100 Black-owned businesses had to move out of the place that they had called home since the period of reconstruction and after the actual abolishment of Slavery. Most of those forced out have aged and have long since closed their wounds and hence sharp memories of that tragic period in Charlotte history. Some, however, remember the deceitful tactics employed to trick them out of their homes and businesses:

"I was a college student when urban renewal first started and Eugene Randall was hired as the urban relocation head. And he hired a bunch of us college students to go into the homes in Brooklyn to interview these folks. And the idea was, how many bedrooms do you want? And we went in as college students all excited to get this information.

"It was all a sham. There was no intention of building any housing. But they ran this trick of interviewing all these folk. I have a sense of guilt from going in and encouraging these people to share their hopes and aspirations to put on the paper, hoping that they were going to get something. There are thousands and thousands of little stories about folks who were uprooted and died because of this." -- James Ross

Unfortunately, we are about to experience another generation of African-Americans who have been “hoodwinked and bamboozled”.“If one does not know or care about his past, its negative history will boomerang to haunt them and their descendants’.” A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Knowledge is power! Each one teach one!

Today, there are talks to bring back a “New Brooklyn”. This neighborhood will include town homes, condominiums, shops, restaurants, a park, etc. Residential units will probably start in the 200K range, and rent starting at $800 per month. Low-income housing has been mentioned, however, how long will that really last? The Black population in Uptown in 1990 was approximately 67%, today it hovers around 50%. Councilman “Smudgy” Mitchell has stated, “he did not want his (MLK Blvd.) street to go through an all Black neighborhood. His wish will be maximized when “his” street will soon be home to a predominately non-Black neighborhood.

On April 10, 2006, I filed what I believed was an official complaint concerning the apparent “conflict of interest” of Councilman Patrick MumfordWachovia Bank employee. Unfortunately, I have yet to receive a response from Charlotte City Council or the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office. If someone has some greater knowledge on this subject, please remit your advice. Not all is lost, however, because when it comes to politics, what goes around comes around. It is for that reason that politicians have to be re-elected -- Thank God!

In my and at least one Council Member's opinion, Councilman “Smudgy” Mitchell rushed the vote to rename a short and shameful street in honor of an internationally known Pulitzer Prize winning Civil Rights hero. All done – in my opinion -- in an effort to repair his damaged ego and to save face. The damage to his ego resulted from the fact that he failed to do his homework and learn from the mistakes of the past. This phenomenon plagues some folks from generation to generation.

Best regards,

J. Whipple
Charlotte, NC

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I too agree that Dr. King's legacy should be captured with a much longer, wider, and visible street.

Inetta said...

It is no wonder that the bank behind this debacle -- Wachovia -- has failed!

Anonymous said...

This is a good example how scary some of the people "we" elect can be if they are not aware of history!

Anonymous said...

I agree with the East/West Blvd. selection. This could have been a great opportunity to connect whites and blacks who live or work along that corridor.

Anonymous said...

This "Pudgy" Mitchell guy has a cousin -- Norman Mitchell -- that voted and worked against Charlotte having a Black Sheriff in 2007.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte, NC, is a strange town that is still strongly controlled by the descendants of Slave owners. The Blacks from there are so afraid to stand up to them!

Anonymous said...

They tried hard to get rid of the first Black Police Chief as well!

pumabydesign001 said...

North Carolina is not alone. Here in NYC, one must fight to have streets renamed. However, I cannot help but question the agenda behind the acts of the politicians who supposedly fight tooth in nail to get these streets renamed.

Some of the streets and roadways renamed are short city blocks that can easily be missed and/or too often sullied by blood, crime, drugs, poverty and economic conditions.

Not to mention, too often, such roads are neglected and left uncared for.

You are right, Dr. King deserves better.

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