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MLK aide: It's time for street to shed 'Ninth'

The City Council attempted a compromise in 1987. Now, some say, make it just ''Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.''

By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- A former aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will push this week to drop "Ninth" from the name of the street honoring the slain civil rights leader.

Walter Fauntroy, who helped coordinate several marches at the height af the 1960s Civil Rights era, said last week he thinks it is time to unload the numerical designation and let the King name stand alone.

After a contentious 1987 debate, the City Council voted to rename Ninth Street Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) Street, hoping the double name represented a compromise that would defuse controversy.

Nearly 16 years later, ideals should dissolve bitterness, Fauntroy said.

"(King) had a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. It would be most appropriate if people dropped their resistance to the honoring of the American dream ... with their address," said Fauntroy, a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization King founded.

Sevell Brown, director of St. Petersburg's branch of the conference, has asked the City Council to hear out Fauntroy on Thursday.

Earlier this month, Brown asked the council to make the change.

It would involve changing hundreds of signs along the street, which runs from Pinellas Point to the Gateway, through both residential and business sections.

Two signs mark the street at many intersections. One of them usually says "Dr M L King St"; the other usually says "9 St."

"Not only remove Ninth Street from the signs, but we want to make sure the name is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., so we're asking them to list his full name," Brown said.

"We're prayerful the citizens have placed into office a much more progressive City Council than 16 years ago," he said.

Fauntroy has a history of successful lobbying in St. Petersburg on behalf of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference positions, and those of Brown.

He helped persuade the City Council to allow the 1989 Martin Luther King parade after a dispute about a bill the conference owed the city for the 1988 parade. The dispute caused the city to deny a parade permit at first.

At the time, Fauntroy was the Washington, D.C., delegate to Congress and was serving on a baseball expansion task force. St. Petersburg was in the hunt for a Major League team, and Fauntroy suggested he would report the city's "unwise decision on race relations" to incoming Baseball Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti.

Under pressure, the council issued the permit. Fauntroy said the decision would "modify" his discussion with Giamatti.

Fauntroy will be the keynote speaker at a King commemorative week awards banquet Friday. It starts at 7 p.m. at the Hilton Hotel, 333 First St. S.

He said he'll deliver a message of peace and unity, a theme he believes is relevant to the naming of the street.

"It's beyond race, creed and color," Fauntroy said.

-- Information from Times files was used in this report.

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