"It's kind of like a pot boiling over," says community activist Joe Dennis. "When it boils over, you don't know how much is going to boil over, and where it's going to go. This thing is not going to go away, and a lot of people are thinking, 'Well I'm going to stay on the sideline, and I'm not going to be pulled into this.' But you'll be surprised what something like this does. It's going to wind up involving everything else."
Councilman Louis Benjamin first brought a resolution to change the name of Willow Street to Martin Luther King Drive last September. Benjamin and Councilman Chris Williams ' the only two African-Americans on the council ' were the only councilmen to support the name change. And they have not let the issue die quietly.
At last Tuesday's council meeting, the proposition to have a major thoroughfare named after King failed for the fourth time, with votes on the nine-member council again falling seven to two along racial lines. The meeting drew out a number of supporters for the name change from across the state, who indicated that they did not intend to back down on the issue.
At the meeting, a frustrated Benjamin asked city-parish attorney Pat Ottinger to direct him on the process to revert Lafayette back to separate city and parish governments. Ja'Nelle Chargois, a local representative of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, later announced plans for a town hall meeting to rally support to undo Lafayette's city-parish charter. Backers of the street name change are also considering the possibility of filing a civil rights lawsuit against the city.
The seven white city-parish councilmen say they are reluctant to rename Willow Street in honor of King because of the disruption and financial burden it will place on the street's businesses and residents. Council chairman Rob Stevenson says even when the 911 emergency center recommends street name changes due to confusing name duplications, residents are still reluctant.
"It's for public safety," he says. "And even with that hanging over their heads we still get hammered. People just don't want their street name changed. It has nothing to do with race or politics. People just don't want it."
But several black community leaders who support the issue say the council is using financial constraints as a convenient excuse. Dennis says, "Even if somebody would come up with some way to pay [the address change costs], I still don't believe [the council] would support it."
John Bess, a teacher at Youngsville Middle School and the host of Voices of African Americans on Acadiana Open Channel, says a majority of the councilmen have no interest in having a prominent tribute to King in the city.
"You see no reverence, no caring whatsoever," he says. "When I got up and spoke at [last week's council] meeting, I saw some smiles, but I saw no understanding of what the people had said before me, or of what I was saying. I saw a solemnity with them that said, 'We have made up our minds; we are not going to change the name of the street, and that's it.'"
Stevenson says that white councilmen have tried to compromise. He says counter proposals to name a future I-10 frontage road, rename Simcoe Street, which runs through Benjamin and Williams' majority black districts, or dedicate a section of a road as a memorial to King have all "been thrown back at us."
Councilman Bruce Conque wrote in an editorial that he met with interested parties to try and resolve the issue but said that Williams and Benjamin "have continued to play the race card in the public arena and destroyed any hopes of shaping a compromise."
Conque says Williams and Benjamin have done little to reach out to other councilmen. "You have one side saying it's Willow and nothing else," he says. "There is no compromise. There are no negotiations. To this date, neither Chris nor Louis has discussed it with me one-on-one."
The stage was set for controversy before the issue even surfaced. When the first resolution to rename Willow Street came before the council, many north side residents were still bitter over prior council actions that transferred funds away from I-10 frontage roads and the Committee to Rebuild Lafayette North.
Bess says if the council can't respect the north side's wishes on the renaming of a street, he sees little hope in their ability to look after the area's infrastructure and economic concerns. "From what I see, the councilmen, for whatever reason, they don't see the greatness of Dr. Martin Luther King," he says. "This is a symbolic gesture. It's the least [the council] could do. If you can't do the symbolic thing, and if you're going to act arrogant and put forth that arrogant overseer type mentality, then you can only expect hostility from those you seek to lord over."
Conque says he just wants the council to move on. "The one thing we have to do," he says, "is not let this issue adversely affect everything else we do. This is one issue. We have two years left on this council in which we have to address many other needs of the community."
But the issue isn't going away. Last week on radio station KJCB, Councilman Benjamin, along with Chargois, reiterated that Lafayette likes to pride itself on being progressive, but it could soon find itself getting national attention for being stuck in reverse.
"It seems like a tyranny of the majority at the Lafayette city parish council," Bess says. "And I think this issue will only get more steam and get hotter until we have a reasonable solution and a resolution that includes all of the councilmen."
"I don't know what the answer is," Dennis adds. "But my gut tells me that this issue is not going to go away, and it's going to cause a lot of problems for this city. The feeling of the community is that this whole thing should have been handled better. It's something that has exposed some things that people thought would all be behind us."
Business organizations opposed the proposal, saying it would lead to job losses and higher prices for goods and services.
An attempt to repeal a six-year-old law that permits public school science teachers to use material outside a classroom's adopted textbook has been rejected by the Senate Education Committee.
New York Times poll shows Obama, Jindal have identical approval and disapproval ratings in the state.
OK, so they’re bentgrass, the type used on golf course greens. But grass is grass.
The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill Wednesday, despite opponents who argued it would shut down the storefront lenders.
A measure to allow the state to implement its own, less stringent plan for limiting carbon dioxide emissions unanimously passed the Senate.
FDA to regulate e-cigarettes, Jodie Foster gets married, Vermont to require labels on genetically-modified food, and more news for today, April 24, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
A push to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health care has been overwhelmingly rejected by the Senate health committee.
Louisiana welfare recipients would be prohibited in state law from spending the federal assistance at lingerie shops, tattoo parlors, nail salons and jewelry stores, under a bill that received the support Wednesday of a House committee.
Senators will consider whether to prohibit private businesses in Louisiana from paying unequal wages to employees of different genders for the same job.
Rep. Joel Robideaux has delayed bill hearings and said unless a compromise can be reached, he won't bring up the legislation this session.
Once again, Lafayette Parish School Board President Hunter Beasley is focused on an issue that has nothing to do with the educational well-being of our public school children.
After exhausting his appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court, the owner of the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete has no legal remedy left save one: do an end run around the high court via a bill that would grandfather his “right” to keep a 550-pound tiger enclosed in a pin at his roadside business.
Louisiana poet Darrell Bourque has won the 2014 Louisiana Writer Award, given annually to recognize outstanding contributions to Louisiana's literary and intellectual life.
Drivers would have to secure dogs riding in truck beds while on interstate highways, if the Senate agrees to a bill backed by the House.
An effort to prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity was shelved Tuesday for the legislative session.
Louisiana won't lessen its penalties for marijuana possession, keeping laws on the books that allow people to be jailed up to 20 years for repeat offenses of having the drug in hand.
“This is one of the oldest divides that exists, and that divide is about the haves and the have-nots.”
It took a few weeks for the pitfalls to emerge in the governor’s $25 billion budget, but the time of judgment has finally arrived.
With pressure continuing to build for him to resign, Congressman Vance McAllister announced plans recently to remain secluded during the Easter break, but the Swartz Republican has said he’ll be back on the Hill casting votes and attending committee meetings when the congressional recess ends April 28.
A bid to limit the use of unmanned aircraft on private property in Louisiana stalled Monday in the Louisiana Senate.
A Shreveport lawmaker said Monday he's scrapping his proposal to name the Bible as Louisiana's official state book.
Attorney hopes fellow lawyers will join him in urging the D.A. to step aside and allow a competent, ethical challenger to take over the scandal-ridden office.
An official with the Louisiana Department of Education was arrested on a range of charges Friday after allegedly breaking into a home and brandishing a knife.