What's a fella gotta do to get a street named for him in St. Bernard Parish, La.?
You don't want to know.
You see, the president of the local chapter of the NAACP asked the parish council to rename Colonial Boulevard in the town of Violet for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As it happens, more than 80 percent of the households on the boulevard petitioned the parish to make the change.
As it also happens, lots of white people who don't live on Colonial Boulevard -- and lots who don't even live in Violet -- ardently oppose that. When the measure went before the parish planning board last month, the opposition went something like this:
“My experience is that streets that are named MLK has been crime-ridden, drug-infested and unfortunately, it’s known to be black populated."
I DON'T KNOW what one does with that. Fumigate the council chambers for fear the commenter might be contagious? Redouble your efforts to get the brain-eating amoeba out of your water supply?
Ultimately, the parish council punted, saying the street was under state, not parish, jurisdiction. Except that Colonial Boulevard is controlled by St. Bernard Parish. Channel 4 in New Orleans reports:
A proposal to rename a street is sparking strong emotions in St. Bernard Parish. On Tuesday night, the parish council claimed the state had jurisdiction over the roadway and tabled the issue.THAT WOMAN must be related to this one who, at the planning board meeting, said this: “I mean, if the street’s name has to change, which is ridiculous, then name it after someone who’s done something for this parish."
"It's a nice boulevard to be living on," said Violet resident Terry Grant.
For a decade and a half, Grant has lived on Colonial Boulevard. He's raised kids and watched his grandchildren at his Violet home. The street sign has remained the same until now.
"With our young kids that don't understand or know about are black leaders, they lived and died for their voting rights. I don't see a problem with them changing the name into Mr. King," said Grant.
An ordinance is being proposed to rename Colonial Boulevard to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Rev. Kevin Gabriel with the St. Bernard Parish NAACP says 28 signatures from a total of 34 houses on the Boulevard were collected in favor of the name change.
"We really mean what we say. We want this street named Dr. Martin Luther King for the people of Colonial, not because it's black, not because it's white, but for the people. He was for all people," said Rev. Gabriel.
At Tuesday night's parish council meeting, opponents of the ordinance held up "say no" signs while the public got the chance to weigh-in.
"I grew up off of Colonial and 6th Street, from a little girl all the way through graduation until we lost the house because of Katrina. Colonial has a lot of good memories," said a woman attending the council meeting.
"Dr. Martin Luther King talked about peace, he brought people together. If we were naming one of these streets after someone who doesn't look like us in this community, it would not be a problem," said Violet resident Andrew Rhodes.
One group even claimed they'd collected more than 1,000 signatures parish-wide against replacing the Colonial Boulevard signage with the late civil rights' leader's name.
"Please do not let outsiders influence, break us down, divide us, nor force change in our community," said one woman attending the meeting.
This is where I point out that Colonial Boulevard intersects with East Judge Perez Drive. That used to be Goodchildren Drive until, in 1972, it was renamed to honor the late segregationist political boss of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, Judge Leander Perez.
How bad a segregationist was Leander Perez? Excommunicated by the Catholic Church bad, that's how bad. From Wikipedia:
In the 1950s and 1960s, Perez gained attention as a nationally prominent opponent of desegregation, taking a leadership role in the southern Massive Resistance to change, particularly following the 1954 US Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. Other nationally recognized figures who became known on this topic were Strom Thurmond, George Wallace (future governor of Alabama), and Ross Barnett of Mississippi. Perez was a member of the White Citizens Council and an organizer of the white supremacist Citizens Council of Greater New Orleans. Perez researched and wrote much of the legislation sponsored by Louisiana's Joint Legislative Committee on Segregation.IN THE 1990s, the St. Bernard Parish Council rededicated Judge Perez Drive for Judge Melvin Perez, a state judge who served St. Bernard Parish, thereby distancing itself from the long-dead white supremacist, Leander. Then again, how many people do you reckon think of Melvin when you say "Judge Perez Drive"?
Perez tried to control the activities of civil rights workers by prohibiting outsiders from entering Plaquemines Parish via the bayou ferries, which were the chief way to cross rivers and enter the jurisdiction.
In 1960, while opposing desegregation of New Orleans public schools, Perez spoke provocatively at a rally in the city. His speech is credited with catalyzing a mob assault on the school administration building by some 2,000 white men, who were fought off by police using fire hoses. The mob ran through the city and attacked African Americans on the streets. When the schools were reopened, Perez organized a boycott by white residents. His group made threats to whites who allowed their children to attend desegregated schools. Perez arranged for poor whites to attend a segregated private school without charge , and he helped to establish a new whites-only private school in New Orleans. The Roman Catholic Church supported desegregation, and integrated its parochial schools. The bishop of New Orleans excommunicated Perez for his overt opposition to the church's teachings.
Obviously, the only thing as hard as naming a not-very-long street for Martin Luther King, Jr., in St. Bernard Parish is unnaming a major thoroughfare for a corrupt segregationist political boss. Here's more on Leander Perez from Wikipedia:
In 1919, Judge Perez launched a reign of bought elections and strictly enforced segregation. Laws were enacted on Perez's fiat and were rubber-stamped by the parish governing councils. Elections under Perez's reign were sometimes blatantly falsified, with voting records appearing in alphabetical order and names of national celebrities such as Babe Ruth, Charlie Chaplin, and Herbert Hoover appearing on the rolls. Perez-endorsed candidates often won with 90% or more of the ballots. Those who appeared to vote were intimidated by Perez's enforcers. He sent large tough men into the voting booths to "help" people vote. Many voters were bribed. Perez testified that he bribed voters $2, $5, and $10 to vote his way depending on who they are.LOUISIANA: Home of both the "carefully taught" and the carefully bought. Next parish council meeting should be another humdinger.
Perez took action to suppress African Americans from voting within his domain, but most were already disenfranchised due to the state constitution passed at the turn of the century, which added requirements for payment of poll taxes and passing literacy tests in order to register to vote. Subjective and discriminatory treatment by white registrars prevented most blacks from registering.