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New-school names generate discussion

Some people would rather honor prominent African-Americans from St. Petersburg. Others like the choices just fine.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- It's no boiling wave of protest.

But the naming last week of three new schools in mostly African-American neighborhoods has generated substantial chat and contemplation, community leaders say.

A committee Wednesday recommended naming schools after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington Carver and the neighborhood in which one is situated, Childs Park

"I've heard a lot of people talking about it," said David Welch, a 16th Street S businessman who is a former St. Petersburg City Council member.

"They would prefer (honoring) a local person who has made contributions," Welch said.

Many names of prominent St. Petersburg figures are mentioned, most frequently longtime educator Olive B. McLin.

But other educators such as John Demps, Fred Dyles, L.D. Brown Sr. and Lewis W. McCoy have advocates. So do non-educators such as attorney and political activist Morris W. Milton, civil rights leader Israel Heard, early African-American pioneer John Donaldson and sanitation labor leader Joe Savage.

The new schools are part of a massive rebuilding and renovation project. The School Board will vote on the name recommendations Tuesday.

No one has suggested diminishing the achievements of King and Carver.

But a wider scope of consideration is needed "so that people can know that our history is bigger than one or two people," said Watson Haynes, who is director of Pinellas Bridge, a drug rehabilitation center.

Haynes, for example, favors honoring Milton because of his work in bringing to fruition single-member state legislative districts, which paved the way for greater African-American representation in the Legislature.

Others still like the national perspective.

Garnelle Jenkins, past president of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, suggested Thurgood Marshall, a longtime NAACP attorney who won the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case and was the first black Supreme Court justice.

Students already learn about King, Jenkins said, and would benefit from learning more about an African-American man who made lasting contributions to public education.

Superintendent Howard Hinesley said the community was involved in the recommendations, adding that the NAACP had a representative on the district's naming committee.

"I don't know who the community was," Jenkins said.

Maria Scruggs Weston, who ran for mayor this year, said more thought should have gone into name selection.

"For whatever reason we get fixated as a society on one or two successful African-Americans," Weston said. "It appears that's as far as we can go. . . . It's difficult to display other successful African-Americans, and there are (many) who have been successful."

Dr. Virginia Irving is the director of Happy Workers day care center, which has guided generations of preschool age children. To her, relevance is the key -- a name that means something to the child.

"We try really hard in our community to make people feel better about themselves," Irving said. "If I were a young child, and I went to Childs Park (middle school), it would have relevancy for me. It's my neighborhood. That's where I live. . . . It's also educating folks who live on the other side of town. "Oh, that's Childs Park. That neighborhood can't be so bad.' "

Chimurenga Waller, who has in the past year run for both the School Board and the City Council, said the naming exercise is "much ado about nothing."

Said Waller: "The name is not going to change the situation. They're approaching it around the accessories, the building. Nobody's saying we're failing. Nobody's doing anything about that."

Still others think the recommended names work well.

Perkins Shelton, an activist and secretary of the St. Petersburg NAACP branch, likes all three.

King and Carver "are two very distinguished African-American people. Childs Park keeps the tradition of the community. You want to retain that name for historic purposes," Shelton said.

- Staff writer Kelly Ryan contributed to this story.

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