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Street name feud gives backdrop to holiday

Racial divisions were exposed in Zephyrhills in efforts to name a street for Dr. Martin Luther King.

Published January 16, 2004

ZEPHYRHILLS - Plans are taking shape, as they do every January, for the annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and work.

But Monday's holiday has added significance for some in the city who worked last year to bring about another form of recognition: a street named for the civil rights activist.

Irene Dobson, who circulated the original petition to rename Sixth Avenue, said she's excited about the changes and the holiday.

"I think it's going to go forward out of everything," Dobson said. "It seems to be going very well. I haven't seen any violence or anything to the (street) signs."

Dobson's October petition requesting that Sixth Avenue be renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue was well-received by the City Council at first.

But when the issue came up for a formal vote Oct. 27, about 20 residents spoke. Most of them opposed the name change, citing a disruption to the street grid, a negative effect on property values and little support among people living on the street.

After the motion passed 4-1, two petitions emerged, one seeking to block the name change and another to recall the council members who supported it.

The controversy eventually forced a second vote. On Nov. 10, some 250 people packed into council chambers, and this time more supporters spoke on the issue. By a 3-2 vote, the name change held.

City leaders said they were shocked and disappointed by the community's reaction. City Manager Steve Spina started soliciting residents to form a task force to address racial divisions.

Dobson, for her part, said she felt nothing but happiness over the outcome.

"I am very happy," she said last week. "Yes, ma'am, I am."

Dobson will work in the kitchen of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, a block off the new Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, during Monday's 9 a.m. breakfast. On the menu are grits, eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, fruit and all the trimmings.

The cost is $5, and the proceeds benefit a college scholarship for a needy student. Spina said the city will give $100 to the fund.

A commemorative program will be at 11 a.m. at Victorious Church of God in Christ in Lumberton, with a reception afterward. Elder Charles Little, a pastor from Ridge Manor, is the speaker.

Saint Leo University has events planned all day, all organized by students. An 11:30 a.m. program will include a performance by the newly formed Saint Leo University Gospel Choir and two speakers: Craig King, a school graduate, and the Rev. Freddie Hinson, pastor of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Spring Hill.

A candlelight vigil begins at 6 p.m., followed by poetry readings and a screening of the 2002 film The Rosa Parks Story at 7 p.m.

Eugene Scott, president of the West Pasco African American Club, has not planned any events for the west side of the county. Because of an illness in his family, Scott said he couldn't organize a program. But he vowed to revive it next year.

The Rev. Eddie Nunn Sr., pastor of Macedonia, said the holiday should be a reminder of the work that lies ahead in Zephyrhills and the nation.

"We're trying to bring families together out of what happened with the renaming of the street," he said. "It showed that we're not together, and we could be much closer, as a family - not as black and not as white - but as a family of American citizens."

[Last modified January 16, 2004, 01:33:00]

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