Coun­cil split on re­nam­ing Boule­vard for Arthur Ashe

Some res­i­dents see move as rail­road­ing and want panel to study the idea

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARK ROBIN­SON

A pro­posal to re­name the Boule­vard for Arthur Ashe Jr., fac­ing push­back from res­i­dents of the street, is head­ing for a divided vote Mon­day at Rich­mond City Coun­cil.

Coun­cil­woman Kim­berly Gray, who rep­re­sents part of the Boule­vard, pro­posed re­nam­ing the street dur­ing the sum­mer. Hers is the third at­tempt to chris­ten the street for Ashe, the first black ten­nis player to win Wim­ble­don, an honor she has said could help move Rich­mond to­ward racial rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

“This is a city that has not al­ways treated all of us with the re­spect and equal­ity that we de­serve,” Gray said. “We need to con­sider who we are and what kind of city we want to be mov­ing for­ward.”

But where Gray sees a mo­ment for heal­ing, some who live and work along the Boule­vard see a rail­road­ing. They at first floated an honorary des­ig­na­tion for the street, which wouldn’t re­quire ad­dress changes, but now some res­i­dents want the city’s nascent His­tory and Cul­ture Com­mis­sion to study the mat­ter.

“If it turns out at the end that this is what the com­mis­sion deems — chang­ing the name of the Boule­vard — we’re fine with that,” said Sue Pa­tow, a Boule­vard res­i­dent. “But we’ll know there was a demo­cratic process here and the en­tire com­mu­nity came to­gether and had the op­por­tu­nity to have their voices heard.”

Some coun­cil mem­bers agree that the vote should wait un­til a

panel Mayor Le­var Stoney pro­posed last year to guide im­ple­men­ta­tion of the rec­om­men­da­tions from his Mon­u­ment Av­enue Com­mis­sion weighs in. Its 13 mem­bers, who will be tasked with study­ing mat­ters of his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance and ad­vis­ing the city ad­min­is­tra­tion, have not yet been ap­pointed.

Coun­cil mem­bers polled ahead of the vote, amid na­tional out­rage af­ter two of the state’s top elected of­fi­cials ad­mit­ted to hav­ing worn black­face, all agreed Ashe should be hon­ored, but weren’t sure how best to do so.

Andreas Ad­di­son, the 1st Dis­trict coun­cil­man, said he would fa­vor the com­mis­sion ex­plor­ing other ways the city can honor Ashe af­ter hear­ing ob­jec­tions to the cur­rent pro­posal from his con­stituents on the Boule­vard. Some res­i­dents want the coun­cil to con­sider other land­marks or roads, such as the Down­town Ex­press­way, as a part of a broader dis­cus­sion about com­mem­o­rat­ing Ashe, he said.

“That’s kind of what my peo­ple have been shar­ing and voic­ing in their con­cerns — they feel this has been la­beled the only way to do this,” he said. Parker Age­lasto, the 5th Dis­trict coun­cil­man who also rep­re­sents part of the street, echoed Ad­di­son.

“I’m not at all happy that there seems to be a tear be­tween peo­ple in our city about this,” he said. “I don’t think that’s what any­body wants when we talk about Arthur Ashe and com­mem­o­rat­ing his legacy.”

Gray said she sees no rea­son to push back a vote on the mat­ter.

“It shouldn’t be con­tro­ver­sial. It shouldn’t be this hard,” Gray said of the re­nam­ing, which also has the sup­port of coun­cil Vice Pres­i­dent Chris Hil­bert and 6th Dis­trict Coun­cil­woman Ellen Robert­son.

Ashe was barred from play­ing ten­nis on the courts at Byrd Park as a child be­cause he was African-Amer­i­can. He went on to be­come the first black ten­nis player to win Wim­ble­don, the U.S. Open and the Aus­tralian Open. He died in Fe­bru­ary 1993 from AIDS, and his like­ness was en­shrined in bronze on Mon­u­ment Av­enue in 1996. An ath­letic cen­ter on the Boule­vard also bears his name.

The vote is sched­uled to come 10 days af­ter Gov. Ralph Northam apol­o­gized for a photo from his 1984 med­i­cal school year­book page that showed one per­son in black­face and an­other in Ku Klux Klan garb. The gover­nor first apol­o­gized for ap­pear­ing in the photo, then walked back that ad­mis­sion a day later while ad­mit­ting to hav­ing dark­ened his face to re­sem­ble Michael Jack­son in a dance con­test the same year.

On Wed­nes­day, Vir­ginia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark Her­ring apol­o­gized for wear­ing black­face as a part of a cos­tume when he was a Univer­sity of Vir­ginia stu­dent in 1981.

Hil­bert, who rep­re­sents the ma­jor­ity African-Amer­i­can 3rd Dis­trict on the City Coun­cil, pre­dicted that if the coun­cil re­jects the pro­posal, the de­ci­sion will in­vite back­lash and be viewed as “racially mo­ti­vated.”

“I can’t see where any­one would vote against this and bring more neg­a­tive at­ten­tion from the na­tional news me­dia on to our city,” Hil­bert said. “It would send ex­actly the wrong mes­sage, re­gard­less of your rea­son for vot­ing against it. It’s go­ing to be seen as just that. We don’t need that.”

Coun­cil­woman Reva Tram­mell, a close ally of Gray, said she plans to vote against the pro­posal be­cause it would cost too much.

City of­fi­cials have es­ti­mated new road and high­way sig­nage could cost about $330,000. That sum would be split among the Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, the Rich­mond Metropoli­tan Trans­porta­tion Author­ity and the city.

Two coun­cil mem­bers — Kris­ten Lar­son and Michael Jones — said they were un­de­cided head­ing into Mon­day’s vote.

“One piece of me says, ‘Hey, that’s great.’ The other piece of me says, ‘Live out his val­ues,’ which means it goes a whole lot deeper than nam­ing a street af­ter him,’” Jones Jones said.

Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Cyn­thia New­bille did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment for this story.




Rich­mond has hon­ored ten­nis star Arthur Ashe Jr., who grew up in the city, with a statue on Mon­u­ment Av­enue and an ath­letic cen­ter on the Boule­vard.


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