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MLK RENAMING REMAINS ISSUE IN HIGH POINT

by Daniel Schere

daniel@yesweekly.com @Daniel_Schere

After 25 years, the city of High Point continues to debate whether a street should be named after one of the most esteemed leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. But at Monday night’s city council meeting, leaders voted to move forward with plans to rename Kivett Drive after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There are more than 900 roads in the United States named after King, including streets in Greensboro and Winston- Salem.

The proposal, brought forth by Rev. Frank Thomas of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, will go to the planning board next for approval. Kivett Drive is the latest street in High Point to be considered for being named after King. Councilman Jim Davis reminded Thomas, who spoke at the podium, that he had originally chosen Green Street as the street that should be renamed. Councilman Davis scolded Thomas for not contacting any of the business owners along Kivett Drive prior to introducing the proposal.

“No one has given any thought to the 414 business owners on Kivett Drive,” he said to Thomas during a confrontation that lasted about five minutes.

Councilwoman Cynthia Davis agreed that not enough had been done to let tenants know of a potential address change, but said she herself was willing to go knock on doors if others would agree.

“I cannot in good conscience do this thing that’s before us today without considering those people who are impacted,” she said. “We do not live there, they do. We do not own a business there. They do.”

Councilman Jeff Golden said he would support councilwoman Davis’s proposal to conduct a poll of the business owners, but said many of them do not live in High Point. He thinks there is an overwhelming amount of support for the renaming.

“I just don’t think we’re in a position where we can ignore a whole demographic and the way they feel about certain things,” he said. “No matter what we do in life, there has to be a way to measure progress.”

Councilwoman Davis added that she was willing to consider the request, although she does not personally support naming a street in High Point after King. She told Golden she did not feel that High Point was not making progress.

“For me, as an individual, not as a councilwoman, my comment from that podium at any meeting would be not to do this thing. Because I honor Dr. King by being a forerunner and doing the things that he began as he continued the things that the forerunners before him began. So as a Christian woman I am charged to pick up that charge and to drive that home. If we want to honor him, we should be carrying the torch and doing the things he would have us do instead of debating year after year after year whether he is worthy of a street name.”

Thomas said he has never championed naming one street for any particular reason, but wants to make sure a prominent street is named after King as has been done in so many cities.

“There was no rhyme or reason for the selection,” he said.

“You pick a street there will be someone that will oppose it. Whether it’s Green, Kivett, College, Centennial. Pick a street. I believe it speaks volumes, not just to High Pointers but to those outside of High Point. The absence of an MLK in this city.”

Many members of the public also spoke on both sides of the renaming issue, including former councilman Al Campbell.

“He (King) represented dignity,” he said. “And if we are going to name a street after him it should be with dignity.”

Sheila Sims said she thought the renaming was long overdue.

“I was very saddened that in this day we are not recognizing the people that made a difference,” she said. “Come on High Point, get on the train.”

David Rosen, a leader of the grassroots group “We Heart High Point,” pointed to the city’s growing diversity as a factor in the need for the council to get behind something he feels people can use to repair the racial divide.

“All we have to do is look around this room and see the makeup of your city and our city,” he said. “Let’s take big steps to bridge this gap of racial divisiveness in our city.”

Resident Jody Kerns noted that Kivett Drive is a state-named road and that changing the name would dishonor the family.

“You change the name, you take that away, you change High Point,” he said.

Cam Cridlebaugh, president of the High Point realtors association said he also was worried about the renaming, not because he was against the principle, but because tenants may not be aware of the change.

Mayor Bill Bencini said as time has passed it has become increasingly difficult to name a street after King, simply because there has been more and more division within the council.

“Had we made the decision to go forward years ago like so many other cities, I think the selection process of the street wouldn’t have made so much difference because in lots of communities, the first street people thought of was fine.” !

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