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(Ninth) to leave King Street

The St. Petersburg City Council makes the final move to rename the street solely after the slain civil rights leader.

By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Ninth Street is no more.

As expected, the City Council Thursday dropped the old numeric designation from one of the city's main thoroughfares, renaming it Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

Since 1987, the street had carried the dual names of Ninth and M.L. King Jr. Council members spoke passionately about the need to honor the slain civil rights leader before voting 8-0 to make his name stand alone on the north-south route.

"I have a lot that I owe to Dr. Martin Luther King," said council member Rene Flowers.

City engineer Mike Connors held high a shiny, 3-foot-long sign bearing the new name. Applause crackled through the chamber as the council and audience members clapped their approval.

Mayor Rick Baker said the name change is effective immediately. Signs will begin to go up soon and will be installed gradually during the next four to six months, Connors said.

It will cost about $16,000 for city crews to change about 200 street signs and 38 traffic-signal signs, Connors said.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street stretches about 9 miles between Pinellas Point and Interstate 275, through black and white neighborhoods and areas both business and residential.

"Dr. Martin Luther King died for freedom. To me that's a true definition of what a patriot is. . . . We need this reminder as we drive around," said council member James Bennett.

Earlier this year, Sevell C. Brown III, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's city and state chapters, requested the erasure of the Ninth Street name.

Brown said it was time to honor King fully and scuttle the half-measure a cautious council took in 1987 when it double-dubbed the street in a compromise over a controversial name change proposal.

Thursday, he beamed as he accepted congratulatory hugs.

"For such a time as this, God blessed us with the electability of a progressive council," Brown said.

Four residents spoke in favor of the change. Two who spoke against it raised issues of cost and possible confusion in finding a named street.

Council members dismissed the criticisms.

"I just call them red herrings," said Bill Foster. "We're spending $16,000 to do the right thing."

Richard Kriseman noted that people have little trouble finding other named roadways, such as Arlington, Burlington and Dartmouth avenues.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street actually carried another name years ago. Early in the city's history, Ninth Street sometimes was called Euclid Boulevard.

The racial acrimony that shadowed the 1987 name-change debates was mostly missing this time.

Still, council members said they received some ugly e-mails, letters and faxes before Thursday's vote.

"It's very evident there are a few, and only a few, that remind you that we still have a lot of work to do," Flowers said.

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