Pine Street renaming heats up; Walnut Street bridge to be repaired

“We know it is not right. Even Ray Charles can see that.”

— Doug Nelson, NAACP

By Joe May
The Southern Standard

The Arkadelphia Board of Directors heard two requests to rename Pine Street as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at their regular meeting Tuesday evening.

Doug Nelson told the board that, for 18 years, the local NAACP had been asking for Pine Street to be named in honor of King. He stated that, at one point, there was a 4-2 vote by a previous board to rename the street; however, that vote was rendered moot due to a 1958 ordinance that dealt with street names.

“If this street is named [for King], Arkadelphia will grow,” he said. “Right now, Arkadelphia is somewhat divided.”

Nelson stated that he had spoken with City Attorney Ed McCorkle, who requested additional time to look into the issue as he could not remember everything that transpired on the issue nearly 18 years ago. He then requested that the board “take over and suspend the rules” and rename the street, noting that McCorkle had said that would be permissible.

“I think a park is better than a street sign. We need to get behind this park.”

— Keith Crews, Ward 3 Director

Pointing to societal issues such as mass shootings and outrage in the nation, Nelson said, “we know it is not right. Even Ray Charles can see that.”

Noting that none of the present directors were on the board 18 years ago, Nelson stated that Ordinance 155, the 1958 ordinance used to invalidate the vote, has nothing to do with street names. “I’m going to do all I can until this street is named,” Nelson vowed.

Responding to Nelson, Mayor Scott Byrd said, “As a board and as a city, this is a very difficult issue. It’s a very touchy issue. One that cuts to the very heart of the city.” In his opinion, Byrd said he saw the board as having three options on the issue. 

The first would be for the city to continue on its present course, keeping the “Honorary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. BLVD” signs in place and continue working to fund the MLK Park, which he said was the decision of a diverse ad hoc committee that he and Nelson’s late wife, Director JoAnn Nelson, had co-chaired. “We knew that our decision wouldn’t make everyone happy,” Byrd said. “But the board accepted the recommendation and we are building the park at a historically significant location where the two communities are divided. We are still working on the park and the honorary signs are up. A park costing over $2 million is being planned and it will draw people from all over the state.”

The second option, Byrd said, would be for those pushing to rename the street to follow the proper procedure, which would be to go before the Planning & Zoning Committee, which would then refer their decision to the board. Should this be done, he said, “all the cards are on the table and it would effectively kill a $2 million park for which funds are still being raised.”

The third option, the mayor said, is that if Nelson or others go through the proper channels for renaming the street, the board would be forced to reconsider the park as the city had accepted the committee’s recommendation of a park and honorary street name in the same resolution. “We would have to reopen the situation and consider scrapping the park plans,” he said.

“As a city, it’s important for us to have this park. It’s a personal mission of mine,” Byrd continued. “I understand on the street.  I want to bring as much unity to this city as I can. I want to put in place the things your late wife taught me.”

In his remarks near the end of the meeting, Ward 3 Director Keith Crews said he was a six-year-old boy in Memphis the night King was assassinated. He recalled the fear that gripped the city, which was shut down in the wake of the killing, and spoke of his mother praying for his father’s safe return home from his job on the other side of town. Responding to statements that have been made to him, Crews said one person had stated “an injustice had been done by the board.”

“I wasn’t here 18 years ago,” Crews said. Another person, he said, had stated the refusal to rename the street was “a damnable act.” “As a Christian, I have a hard time with someone telling me that anything I’ve done is a damnable act.” Still another person had told him that with the makeup of the current board, the MLK Boulevard notion would never come to fruition. “That is a judgement that is not based on reality,” Crews said. “It’s an assumption that we would vote against it because of ideology that may or may nor exist.” Noting he still has family and business interests in Memphis, Crews said Memphis is a “very sad place because it’s still very much a divided community.”

Coming to Henderson State University in 1980, Crews said he took note of Arkadelphia as an impressive place, “and I still think it is today.” He added: “I think a park is better than a street sign. We need to get behind this park.”

During the public comment portion following the meeting, NAACP President Bruce Bell addressed the board on the issue, stating that the previous board used Ordinance 155 incorrectly to invalidate the vote to rename Pine Street. Bell noted that the late Henry Wilson, who started the move to rename the street, “didn’t ask for ‘honorary’; that is an insult in the highest way. [King] earned a Ph.D. He don’t need ‘honorary’ in front of his name. How many other communities in the country have honorary Dr. King streets?”

Bell then told the board that the sign on the overpass is “too small” and labeled the cost of the park “exorbitant … $2.5 million is a lot of money. Henry Wilson didn’t ask for no $2.5 million park. All he wanted was a metal street sign. Go ahead and do it if you get the money.” He then urged the board to restore the 4-2 vote for the renaming to remove “the stigma” from the city.

In other business, the board:

• Voted to pass two ordinances closing Butler and Cass Streets in preparation for the widening of Pine Street and the construction of a bypass.

• Approved, at the motion of Directors Crews and Chris Porter, to pay each police officer a one-time $5,000 stipend from a state grant.

• Heard City Manager Gary Brinkley say he had appointed Ryan Arnold, field superintendent for the Water Department, to manage the city’s various construction projects for a stipend amount.

• Voted to make a change order for the Caddo and 27th Street drainage project.

• Voted to replace the Walnut Street bridge for $95,805 due to the state’s demands, even though in 3-4 years it will be removed due to the Arkadelphia Bypass project.

• Heard Fire Chief Jason Hunt say the city’s new fire truck will be both a rescue and fire vehicle.

• Heard Brinkley say that a fundraising announcement on the MLK Park may be made by Juneteenth.

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6 replies »

  1. I can’t imagine why a park on that small piece of land would cost two million dollars. I also don’t see how renaming Pine St. MLK Drive is going to stop any division. My recommendation is just go ahead and name it that and move on. You’re going to eventually do it anyway and you know it. So, get it over and do it. Given the current state of affairs in the Country these days, this a minor issue. It will make some people happy and others unhappy just as it is now. It would be good if everyone could get it together.

  2. I rather doubt MLK’s dream involved erasing the history of a street so it could be renamed for him.

  3. I think Derek might be on to what I’ve recently heard described on the national news as Liberal Privilege.

  4. Has anyone checked the definition of the word boulevard? Webster’s Universal College Dictionary defines a boulevard as a broad avenue in a city usually having areas at the sides or center for trees, grass or flowers. Could any name change of Pine Street please reflect the correct terminology according to this definition? I believe the entrance to the Ouachita Baptist University campus off 10th Street near Central Park is what a boulevard would look like according to the dictionary.

  5. Arkadelphia renamed a number of named streets in our downtown area, changing them to numbered ones. It’s been quite a while ago, but just demonstrates that we’ve a history of doing that; it’s nothing new.

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