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A 'slap in the face of Dr. King'
NAACP leaders not pleased with Athens street named for civil rights leader

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

ATHENS — NAACP leaders call the street that the city named in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. a "shortcut through the woods" and a "slap in the face of Dr. King."

On Monday, the Athens City Council unanimously approved naming a new street that will connect Durham Drive to Roy Long Road in honor of King. The street will service Steelcase traffic. The city also approved naming in honor of King the adjacent 53 acres it bought from Steelcase to develop a new industrial park.

Benard Simelton, president of Limestone County's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, and member Wil Woodruff said the organization opposed that location. The two said the new road is not a prominent street and there are no immediate prospects for a new industry or business at the park.

Councilman Jimmy Gill, the only black member on the council, said to his knowledge, there is no industrial park in the nation named in honor of King. He said industrial recruiters will market the park worldwide, giving recognition to King.

The NAACP has sought a street named for King for 21/2 years.

Opposition from white and black residents resulted in the council turning down the renaming of Hine, Brownsferry, Elm and South Jefferson streets.

Simelton said the organization will continue seeking a prominent street and not a "backwoods street" near Steelcase.

Councilman Johnny Crutcher said Steelcase employees would not appreciate the "backwoods" term, but Simelton said he was referring the street and not the facility.

Crutcher said the NAACP returning to the council for another street would be futile because the city cannot have two streets with the same name.

Public Works Director James Rich said the city wants to include a monument for king at the industrial park. Simelton said after the meeting that he did not know if the NAACP would participate in a ceremony or monument dedication at the park.

"If I had to answer (Monday night), I would say no, but cooler heads may prevail," Simelton said. "This is not what our members wanted. We'll be back in two weeks for a prominent street."

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