Although he was only 12 years old, James Proby clearly remembers the last time City Council voted on whether to rename Fountain Boulevard after an African-American leader.
The year was 1982, and Proby had skipped a day of school to watch his father, the Rev. Milton Proby, beseech Council to rename the street after Martin Luther King Jr. The elected body unanimously voted against the idea.
Twenty-three years later, Proby says he knows it will be equally tough to convince Council to rename the six-mile thoroughfare after his father, the widely respected pastor of St. John's Baptist Church, who died in May.
When the city's planning commission gave the idea a boost last Thursday by voting 6 to 2 in favor, Proby was surprised.
"I'm ecstatic and shocked," he said after the meeting, which drew a crowd of supporters.
Council likely will take up the matter on Oct. 25, and Proby expects to encounter more opposition than he did at the planning hearing. But, as he pointed out to planning commissioners, supporters of the name change will raise more than $30,000 to fully cover the city's costs to change the street name, even establishing a fund to help businesses pay for transition expenses, such as new letterhead. He also says the change could take place gradually over five years.
Proby acknowledges that change often can be a challenge, but emphasizes the importance of recognizing local African-Americans.
Last month, city officials actually advised against the change, citing widespread opposition among residents and businesses along the street. City attorneys say the boulevard would be the longest stretch of renamed road in the city.
"I'm between a rock and a hard place," says Councilwoman Margaret Radford, who represents the city district containing Fountain Boulevard, about her upcoming vote. She expresses hope the approaching debate won't revolve around skin color.
Councilman Richard Skorman says he's leaning toward voting to rename the street. "It would be a great symbol for our community."
-- Dan Wilcock
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