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Published: Thursday, 3/22/2001

Renaming Collingwood for MLK has little support along roadway

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The sentiment was overwhelming during the random interviews yesterday and a review of correspondence sent recently to the committee appointed by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to find a street suitable to bear the name of the slain civil-rights leader.

But the committee's choice of Collingwood, long known as the avenue of churches that became a veritable boulevard of culture, is not sitting well with some.

Among them, the Old West End Association, which is opposed to the idea, and the religious community along Collingwood, which seems lukewarm, at best, to renaming the boulevard.

“I don't think Collingwood is long enough,” said the Rev. Lillie Mae Henley, pastor of First Unitarian Church, 2210 Collingwood.

“I think a better street would be Central [Avenue] or Detroit [Avenue]. Those streets go through the entire city and touch everyone. Collingwood is a church street and really doesn't have enough significance [for Dr. King's name]. I think naming Collingwood would be a token.”

Bishop James R. Hoffman, leader of the 19-county Catholic Diocese of Toledo, which has 325,000 members, said while he is open to the idea of renaming Collingwood in honor of Dr. King, the decision should be the community's to make.

“I certainly have followed the conversation in the community about marking something significant on behalf of Dr. King, and I would think the community would come to a judgment of what's appropriate,” Bishop Hoffman said.

“If Collingwood changes, we certainly would be adaptable. It's fine with me,” he said.

Bishop Hoffman, who has been head of the diocese since 1981, said he hasn't given any consideration to whether there are more suitable sites or projects that should renamed to honor Dr. King.

“It's not what I would call a burning issue with me, but I can certainly appreciate that it is with others,” the bishop said.

However, the Rev. Ronald Warnimont, pastor of Rosary Cathedral, 2535 Collingwood, the mother church of the diocese, said he feels renaming Collingwood might prove to be too divisive. He said the committee possibly could build a coalition of support with another street selection.

“I think the question should be if there is a better way to [honor Dr. King],” Father Warnimont said. “I'd like to see something move in a positive direction. We got a new bridge being built that needs a name. We have [the Buckeye Basin Greenbelt Parkway] that was just built.”

Johnny Hutton, the principal at Scott High School who is black, said he believes Cherry Street is a better choice than Collingwood. Scott, at 2400 Collingwood, has the highest percentage of African-American students of any other Toledo high school.

“I'm not going to lose any sleep if we don't name Collingwood [after Dr. King],” Mr. Hutton said. “Cherry Street would go right to the [Martin Luther] King Bridge and that just makes sense to me. I sat here and thought about how Scott High School would benefit [from the name change], and I can't think of any.”

Hard feelings remain in the African-American community as a result of efforts to rename Dorr Street after Dr. King in 1987, according to the Rev. Robert Culp, pastor of First Church of God, 3015 Collingwood. He is a member of the mayor's street renaming committee.

“The community backed away from Dorr Street being named after Dr. King,” Mr. Culp said. “I don't think it will back away again. We may have to go to the mat on this one. If we were able to separate the street naming from everything else, I don't think this would be a big deal.

“There are a lot of other things we're dealing with here. This issue will make the community come to grips with itself.”

The Martin Luther King, Jr., Bridge officially was dedicated on Sept. 2, 1989, after then city Councilman Jack Ford proposed the renaming. Mr. Ford said the “bridge is a highly appropriate tribute.”

LeRoy Williams, then president of the Toledo branch of the NAACP, called the bridge naming “a significant and symbolic memorial to Dr. King.”

A 6-foot-high sculpture of Dr. King's likeness was placed on the bridge during the dedication. The sculpture, titled “Radiance,” was created by Constancia Gafeney-Brown and Wil Clay.

But the Rev. Floyd Rose, a civil rights activist who was a former NAACP Toledo branch president at the time, called the bridge selection “an insult to Dr. King's memory, and to [the black community's] intelligence as a people. There is practically no support in the African-American community for the renaming of Toledo's worst bridge after America's best bridge builder.”

Mr. Rose was the person who proposed that Dorr be renamed for Dr. King.

The only other edifice in Toledo named in honor of Dr. King is Martin Luther King Elementary School, 1415 Lawrence Ave.

A woman at Warren African Methodist Episcopal Church, 915 Collingwood, said the pastor, the Rev. Charles Scott, would not be available for an interview because his children are ill. Warren A.M.E. was the first black church in Toledo and has one of the largest African-American congregations in the city.

Other ministers couldn't be reached for comment, including the Rev. Robert Wuellner, minister of First Congregational Church, 3215 Collingwood.

Dan Plasterer, owner of the Old West End Collector's Corner, 2502 Collingwood, said he is concerned that anyone who speaks against the street renaming will be identified as racist.

“I was at that first meeting [of the renaming committee] and just listened to everything that was said,” said Mr. Plasterer, who lives on Collingwood. “There were a lot of good suggestions and compromises, and every one of them was shot down.

“I just spent $250 on brochures [with his Collingwood address], and I advertise in all kinds of publications. No one seems to care about that.”

Mr. Plasterer said his business, which is at Collingwood and Delaware Avenue, a block away from Scott High School, has a clientele of mixed races and his customers unanimously are against the renaming of the street.

Numerous letters and e-mails sent to the committee and Mayor Finkbeiner's office expressed similar feelings about renaming Collingwood.

Among them, an e-mail written by George Cornelius, who lives on Glenwood Avenue, which stated that he is opposed to the renaming of Collingwood.

Mr. Cornelius' e-mail stated that he moved to the Old West End three years ago to “celebrate the diversity of its residents and their love for historical preservation.”

Blade religion editor David Yonke contributed to this report.



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