The Port Allen City Council approved a measure to rename a portion of La. Hwy. 1 after civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. on Wednesday, May 10, but not until after a vote showed some racial division.
The City Council’s three black members, Ray Helen Lawrence, Carey Williams and Brandon Brown, voted for the renaming of the road. Hootie Riviere and Gary Hubble, who are white, voted against the renaming.
Hubble and Riviere both expressed admiration for the acclaimed civil rights leader, but said that the renaming of the highway was merely a symbolic gesture that diminished King’s impact.
“I feel like his message has been so convoluted over the years,” Riviere said. “To me, his message has been lost. I would vote for it in a heartbeat if I felt his message was being honored.”
Riviere said he was skeptical of the memorial’s sincerity and denounced similar gestures across the country as too “politically correct.”
“I think the greatest memorial is to live as he preached,” said Hubble, who said he personally visited the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee (where King was assassinated) with his family to teach the importance of King’s work. “I think it will be forgotten.”
The comments from Hubble and Riviere drew some criticism from Councilwoman Lawrence, who attended speeches from King at Southern University and who participated in civil rights demonstrations in Baton Rouge.
“He brought things that blacks are still thankful for,” she said. “To say his message is lost today is a slap in the face.”
If the message is in fact lost, renaming the road may be a place to start, Councilman Brown said.
Mayor Richard Lee said Hubble and Riviere’s votes were not representative of their constituents.
“I just think it’s their point of view. It’s not the view of the citizens. As of this date, no one has contacted me to show opposition,” he said.
The proposal to rename a road in the city after King was in the works 15 or 20 years ago, but there was opposition to it, Lee said. Businesses and schools would have been affected by the renamed road.
The newly proposed memorial road would begin at Avenue G and end at Rosedale Road, where no businesses, schools or home addresses would be affected.
One of Lee’s biggest goals after taking office was uniting the city, he said. Although there have been hiccups, Lee doesn’t see the vote as sign of a larger divide.
“Right now it’s just a matter of doing what the citizens of Port Allen want to see,” he said.