"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."
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The former star of Saturday Night Live throws in his 2 cents on the Big Oil lawsuit.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday, March 10, 2014:
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.