City and County

Pine Street, Juneteenth top city board meeting

By Joel Phelps
The Arkadelphian

City directors gave no response Tuesday to a resident’s plea to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by renaming one of Arkadelphia’s main thoroughfares in honor of the late Civil Rights icon.

Jacqueline Wilson, widow of the late NAACP president Henry Wilson, was allotted 10 minutes to persuade the Arkadelphia Board of Directors to change Pine Street’s name to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Of the eight minutes she used to speak, Wilson spent half reading 2015 correspondence between Arkansas NAACP President Dale Charles and Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Charles’ letter noted the accomplishments of the state NAACP chapter’s 107-year history and pleaded with the governor to halt the dual celebration of King and Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s birthdays. Hutchinson’s response was that the issue needed to be addressed; Charles’ wish eventually came true, as the state began exclusively observing King’s birthday in 2018.

Eight members of Excelsior Lodge No. 13 stood as Wilson delivered her speech. Wilson then began her plea. Reading from a prepared speech, she said:

“My late husband, Henry L. Wilson, has come before this board of directors for the last 17 years for the renaming of Pine Street to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” a sobbing Wilson told all seven city directors as well as the city’s administration. 

Tuesday’s outcry for changing the name of Pine Street wasn’t the first time the discussion has surfaced. Henry Wilson, who died earlier this year, was an outspoken figure when it came to honoring King in Arkadelphia. In 2004, he chained himself to the I-30 MLK Overpass until he was given media attention over his wanting to change the entire street’s name, not just the overpass.

The “Pine Street Issue” re-surfaced less than a decade later, when the then-board voted to change the street’s name in an unsuspected move. In an unsatisfactory twist of fate for Henry Wilson, the city reneged and instead placed honorary MLK signage on the street.

“The board did rename Pine Street to Honorary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard,” Wilson continued. “I believe it says ‘Drive’ actually. On behalf of the late Mr. Wilson tonight we, the community, are still asking this board to give Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recognition by removing the name ‘Honorary’ and replacing it with ‘Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.’

Hutchinson “worked hard in 2015 toward getting proper justice on January each year as Martin Luther King Jr. Day solely for him in the state of Arkansas. We are asking this board to follow the leadership of our governor in giving honor to Dr. King. 

“Several cities throughout the state of Arkansas has renamed a street in honor of Dr. King. Arkadelphia, please come aboard and join Gov. Asa Hutchinson, mayors, and city board and city councils to give honor to Dr. King by naming the street in the city in his honor. 

“This city has stated to Mr. Wilson and the Clark County NAACP that the businesses on Pine Street would have to spend several dollars to purchase new stationery. Speak with officials in other cities: they continued to use the same stationery until it ran out, and then ordered new stationery with the new address. 

“I pray to this board to unite this community by renaming Pine Street to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and I thank you all for your time.”

With no response to Wilson, directors carried on with normal business.

They unanimously voted to donate unused airport lights to the City of Moniticello and OK’d a bid on real property insurance. Directors also adopted the 2022 budget, which was $37,900 less than previously discussed, after the city treasurer made some alterations.

There was much discussion, however, about the city’s holiday list.

Once a motion was made to accept the holiday list as presented, Assistant Mayor Roland Gosey brought up the city’s omission of Juneteenth as an observed, paid holiday. City Manager Gary Brinkley pointed out that employees get a “floating” holiday on their birthday. Ward 5 director Jason Jones, who motioned to accept the presented list, said he had no qualms with observing the holiday but showed concern for how it would be received among city employees who would rather take their birthday. Brinkley said Juneteenth could be an additional holiday but the budget would have to be adjusted accordingly.

Ward 3 director Keith Crews estimated a $25,600 payroll expense for adding another paid holiday to the calendar. 

Gosey called Juneteenth a “significant” holiday and added the board should consider including it as an observed holiday.

After some back-and-forth dialogue between directors about city holidays and how they line up with state and federal holidays, Jones noted a sense of “aggravation” among the general public when it comes to tax-funded entities observing so many holidays. “How many of you get aggravated when you try to do something at a state or federal building because you’re working and those places are shut down?” Jones retorted. “There’s an aggravation with that, and I think it’s worth throwing out there before we jump into it.”

Jones ultimately withdrew his original motion and moved instead to include Juneteenth as a city holiday. The motion carried unanimously. Following the vote, Brinkley noted administration will recommend a budget amendment at a later time to reflect the payroll expense for the Juneteenth holiday.

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