The name of an east McComb street was changed to Black Lives Matter Avenue in a vote by a divided city board Tuesday. That night vandals spray painted the initials BLM on a Confederate monument in front of City Hall.
“McComb was once the bombing capital of the world, and we now have a street called Black Lives Matter. I am proud to be a part of history,” Selectman Devante Johnson said following the 4-2 vote to rename Pearl River Avenue to Black Lives Matter Avenue.
Johnson first brought up the idea of the name change last week, and the agenda was amended to include the vote Tuesday.
The board’s four black members — Johnson and selectmen Donovan Hill and Shawn Williams — voted in favor of the name change, while its white members, Michael Cameron and Ted Tullos, opposed.
Cameron argued that the name change could pose difficulties for business owners along the street, but board attorney Angela Cockerham disagreed.
Cameron asked Johnson if he had sought opinions from residents and business owners on Pearl River Avenue. Johnson said despite receiving mostly positive responses from residents, his proposal was not “received well” by businesses.
“I couldn’t get some business owners to engage,” he said.
Cameron said he was not opposed to renaming the street but believed it should be done on a residential street because address changes are less complicated for residents than businesses.
Like Cameron, Tullos said he voted against the name change because of the issues that crop up for businesses in the area.
“It puts the businesses in a real bad bind, and they shouldn’t have to go through this,” Tullos said, adding that there are costs associated with name changes for not only businesses and residents but also the city itself. “I don’t have a problem if you go residential, but people don’t consider those kinds of things when they make these kinds of decisions.”
The move ginned up many comments, both in favor and against, on social media. Hours later, after City Hall had closed for the night, someone defaced a Confederate monument by spray painting the initials for Black Lives Matter on a Confederate monument.
Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said security cameras inside City Hall caught someone in the act, but city officials could not make out a description of the vandal. He said security footage has been turned over to police, who are investigating.
The monument, which contains the words “Confederate Heroes” at the top, was erected in 1916 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy Chapter No. 1442 “to the memory of the Confederate soldiers of Pike County.”
The previous city board voted in 2017 to move the monument and the owners of a private cemetery in Magnolia with the graves of Confederate soldiers agreed to take it.
However, the move never happened. Former Mayor Whitney Rawlings said at the time that private funds would have to be used to move the edifice. Former selectman Tommy McKenzie produced an attorney general’s opinion stating that the monument would have to stay on city property.
The street renaming comes after a peaceful march June 11 down Pearl River Avenue that ended at the downtown Bo Diddley Pavillion.
The Rev. Hilton Harrell, pastor of Pleasant Hill East McComb Baptist Church — one of the places that will soon have to change its address to Black Lives Matter Avenue — asked the mayor and city board during to rename a street after the chant and social justice movement. Harrell said Wednesday that he had no input on which street would get the name change.
Harrell said he was disheartened by the division among residents following the name change vote, which he said he believed was important to unify the city instead of tearing a further rift.
“It is not about race; it is about unity, and if it is anything that is going to be divisive, I am not much for it. I want to bring unity to our city,” he said. “Black Lives Matter, to me, is getting outstretched to understand that our lives matter.
“We are killing each other, and we need to see that more than anything else our lives matter. I am trying to send a message to our race that we need to be more unified.
“We are more divided than anything else in this city. We need to know each other’s personal opinion and make decisions based on Pike County, not our personal feelings.”