Black Lives Matter Avenue may not be an entire avenue after all.
The city board on Tuesday said it would reconsider its recent name change of the east McComb traffic artery Pearl River Avenue and instead dedicate the downtown railroad bridge after the social justice cause.
The move comes as residents and property owners on the avenue confronted the board about the name change it approved on June 23.
Before residents spoke, Selectman Devante Johnson, who proposed the name change to the board, addressed the some 20 McComb residents in attendance.
“The goal and purpose of the street change was to engage, make aware, educate and stimulate a discussion surrounding a topic that is uncomfortable for many people to talk about — especially those who are not impacted as a result of police brutality, racism, white privilege, job obtainment, access to health care, education, wealth and the list goes on,” he said. “I’ve heard the concerns that we have better things to do, and I heard you, and we are addressing your concerns, but I found it incumbent on me to say something. If you are silent, you are part of the problem,”
Johnson proposed to the board, with only himself and selectmen Ronnie Brock and Shawn Williams in attendance, to revert the name to Pearl River Avenue and instead designate the stretch of road encompassing the downtown railroad bridge as Black Lives Matter Avenue.
“I heard you loud and clear. I personally walked through the neighborhood and heard some good, honest dialogue,” Johnson said, adding that the city would add a sign denoting the street name on the bridge.
This move did not quell tensions among the residents who spoke, with Pearl River Avenue resident Mary Caston speaking first.
“I came for clarification. Your phone call told me one thing. Your interview told me another,” Caston said, referring to an interview Johnson recently gave to WJTV Channel 12. “This was something that should have been done before the board meeting. Everyone should have been spoken to before this decision was made. I am not here to cause any kind of confusion or division, but right is right. It was not done the right way.”
James Andrews, a lifelong Pearl River Avenue resident, said before the board changes the name of the street, it needs to know its history. He noted that Johnson was not alive during the street’s golden age, when residents drew crowds to look at spring and Christmas decorations placed in the median.
Andrews said he spoke with business and home owners to see if Johnson had spoken with them before the name change and found many of them were not consulted.
Johnson said he spoke with many residents and at least four business owners. Homeowner James White said his tenants were contacted, but he was not.
“It was added on to the end of the agenda as an amendment,” White said of the vote to change the name. “I wasn’t contacted. ... Mr. Charles Smith owns seven businesses on Pearl River Avenue. I called him the next day, and he said, ‘What are you talking about? ... Nobody contacted me.’ Before we start doing things, we need to look back.”
After Andrews aired his issues, he said he would not mind the new action Johnson proposed, with only the bridge being changed, because it did not force residents and businesses to go through the processes of changing their addresses.
“We should have been consulted … I would like to see it changed (back), but if we do anything, I am with it for changing the bridge,” he said.
Removal of Confederate monument discussed
The board also discussed the possibility of moving the Confederate monument in front of City Hall. Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said the previous administration looked into moving the monument to a Confederate cemetery in Fernwood and it would cost more than $30,000.
Multiple residents in attendance said the board should not worry about the monument with other more pressing financial matters on the horizon.
Brock said he has spoken with a lot of residents and homeowners who would donate to see the monument removed.
Brock asked board attorney Angela Cockerham, who participated by phone, if the board could set up an account to put those donations in, and she agreed that the board could.
One resident said he would be happy to move the monument to the cemetery himself, and gave his business card to Brock. He clarified that he was serious about helping, but did not specify a price.
This and the amendment for the Black Lives Matter Avenue name change are expected to be considered in the next board meeting next Tuesday.