With passing cars honking in approval, McComb officials and unveiled the signs for Black Lives Matter Avenue on Friday morning.
“The only reason for me pushing this so strong is being a young Black man in (what was) once the bombing capital of the world and now to have a portion of a street called Black Lives Matter, that says a lot about the work we’ve done,” said Selectman Devante Johnson, who spearheaded the name change.
The name change affects the stretch of Pearl River Avenue between Argyle Street and North Railroad Boulevard — essentially the downtown railroad bridge.
The city board originally voted 4-2 on June 23 to rename all of Pearl River Avenue to Black Lives Matter Avenue, but controversy and the issue of multiple address changes surrounded the move, leading Johnson to rescind the original action and propose a month later to change just the specific stretch of road encompassing the bridge.
That measure was split along racial lines as well, requiring Mayor Quordiniah Lockley to break a tie in favor of the name change.
The bridge was the focal point of a peaceful march that Johnson and religious leaders organized on June 11.
When the sign was placed Friday, Lockley called the change historic.
“We are advocating for social justice. We are advocating for equality. We are advocating that not only Black lives matter, but we are also advocating that when we come together, we see the importance of everybody,” Lockley said. “With the way Blacks have been treated from the start in this nation to now, we want everyone to understand that Black lives do matter.”
Lockley said the sign was designed partly by Public Works Director Alice Barnes, who worked with multiple people in her department to develop the special design.
McComb Branch NAACP President Mamie Kettle also attended the unveiling.
“We could not have done any of this, Devante could not have done it without the community getting behind it,” Kettle said. “People working together — that is what it is all about. I am proud of the board of mayor and selectmen and the citizens of McComb taking a stand and saying, ‘We have had enough.’ ‘’
Johnson, 24, said that this is just the beginning, noting that the protests from the beginning of the year sparked a social change and highlighted new leaders in social justice and equality.
“There’s a new generation of leaders that are emerging that are saying, ‘Enough is enough. We are going to fight for social justice,’ “ he said. “Cheers to change.”
The President of Mississippi’s Black Lives Matter branch, Reginald Virgil of Petal, said the bridge sign is a symbolic gesture but connotes a coming great change in the state.
“It is a symbolic gesture and a manifestation of what we need,” he said of the road sign. “Seeing is believing, but the next part of that is what we do in the community that follows the seeing and believing and the manifestation of our hard work in Mississippi.
“It shows a progression from the pain and suffering of Black people in this country. ... And to see something like this is great. Better than seeing a confederate statute.”