The Metro Council’s Black Caucus withdrew a proposal Thursday to rename downtown’s Union Street to pay homage to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. after members were unable to reach a consensus on whether the name change is appropriate.
“I don’t think we go forward divided,” Councilman Lonnell Matthews Jr. said. “If we’re not going to be together, we shouldn’t go forward.”
Already drafted was a piece of legislation –– carried largely by At-large Councilman Jerry Maynard –– that would honor the nation’s most famous civil rights leader by putting his name on one of Nashville’s most prominent streets.
To push forward to a full-council vote, all it lacked were signatures of the black caucus, who had agreed in principle last month to support such a bill. But members Thursday did not give their final stamp of approval.
“It was clear from the discussion today that there was not unanimous support to move forward, so I withdrew the motion,” Maynard said afterward. “I’m going to respect the Black Caucus’ decision not to move forward.”
Not in attendance at last month’s meeting –– when the original agreement was reached –– were council members Erica Gilmore and Vivian Wilhoite, who Thursday both expressed concerns over the street name change.
Nashville is one of the only major Southern cities lacking a street named for King.
Gilmore, who represents a district that includes Union Street, said she hoped to have more discussion with Union Street business owners. Following the meeting, Maynard told The City Paper meetings had already taken place.
Wilhoite questioned whether naming a street after King is the best course of action, pointing out Nashville already has a bridge named for him. Moreover, she alluded to the push of original Freedom Riders’ to get Metro to install a monument or memorial that honors the civil rights movement. The caucus has already agreed to help in this effort.
“Freedom Riders, sit-in participants,” Wilhoite said with some Freedom Riders looking on. “How does the name Martin Luther King resonate with what they did? It does not resonate.
“When I see Martin Luther King, I see one man who was jailed, beat and was killed for what he believed in,” she said. “When I hear Freedom Riders, when I hear sit-in participants, I hear many people. And that’s a difference.”
Wilhoite, term-limited from her Antioch-area district seat, is running for council at-large. Maynard is one of her opponents.
Watching the discussion Thursday was Tom Turner, president of the Nashville Downtown Partnership. The City Paper could not reach Turner afterwards to get his take on the name-change proposal.