Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Street Fight

The Martin Luther King street naming thing in the news today seems to hit the Pensacola city council about as frequently as a tropical storm hits the beach, which is to say every other year or two. The reasons for this are a credit to no one.

For one thing, white pols in Pensacola power positions habitually glorify other white Pensacola area pols in power positions by naming things after them. Too often, it seems, even before the honored ones have the grace to die, first.

What's more, the white guys they pick to honor aren't exactly inspiring paragons of civic virtue or moral rectitude.
  • The Bob Sikes Bridge to Pensacola Beach is named after a disgraced congressman who's smartest career move was to expire just before a grand jury indicted him.
  • Jim Bailey Middle School is named after an under-educated school board member who was still sitting on the board when the decision was made. No doubt, the name is an inspiration to all thick-headed young'uns who aspire to earn, some day, a high school degree, or at least a G.E.D.
  • Another downtown Pensacola street was named after former state senator and county commisisoner W. D. Childers, shortly before he was sentenced to three and half years in prison.
Like, there aren't enough famous dead people in this world? Pensacola has to name all of its stuff after home-grown nitwits, crooks, and rogues?

Another reason for the biennial street fight over the Martin Luther King name, it must be said, is the enervated state of leadership within the Pensacola minority community itself. Did we say "leadership"? There isn't any worthy of the word.

The late brilliant but fatally flawed Willie Junior came as close as any to playing a leadership role. But he hoarded all the opportunities to himself. For decades, incredibly, Willie actually drew salary both as a county commissioner and as head of the local community action program. That's a lot like being on both ends -- seller and buyer -- of a sales contract.

Willie was always generous with a handout to the less fortunate, but he never took the time or effort to mentor others into leadership positions. In the end Willie, himself, became so corrupt he would have qualified, by Pensacola standads, for naming at least one boulevard after him -- if he hadn't been African-American.

Even in disgrace and death, the racial divide persists in Pensacola. White rogues get their names on road signs. Black rogues get bumpus.

If only there were effective leadership within the Pensacola minority community and a genuine commitment to social justice on the part of white leaders, we could be well past symbolic gestures like renaming streets and school houses, or whatever. We could be tackling the root problems that afflict the minority community and handicap all the rest of racially-divided Pensacola -- poverty, discrimination in virtually every sphere of public life and municipal services, the scourge of illegal drugs, appalling lack of adequate health care, and lousy schools, to start with.

Every minute spent debating street names leaves one minute less to address the real needs of Pensacola and its minority community. Martin Luther King is justly an inspiring name. So, too, are names like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Chappie James, or Jonathan Walker.

We say, the city council should take no more than five minutes and give every one of those historical luminaries a street or two. Then, both the council and new leadership within the minority community should turn to solving the real problems facing Pensacola.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


What's the real deal?

How does changing the street name help Leroy to help minorities afford to live across from Aragon in the new housing development?