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Published: Friday, 3/30/2001

Racial themes surface as passions run high in debate over paying tribute to MLK

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The standing-room-only meeting focused on whether Collingwood Boulevard should be renamed in honor of the slain civil rights leader. The discussion lasted more than two hours and, at times, became heated and emotional. At other times, there were racial overtones.

A committee appointed by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to find a street suitable for Dr. King's name conducted the meeting at the Mott branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, 1085 Dorr St. The committee said last week that it wanted Collingwood to be renamed.

That resulted in a hue and cry from those living and working along Collingwood, others in the Old West End, and some from the community at large protesting the suggestion. “Keep it Collingwood. Maintain the history” signs sprouted like mushrooms.

And while the objections continued at yesterday's meeting, the crowd seemed evenly split among detractors and supporters of the name change.

A teary-eyed Angela Cooney of Scottwood Avenue choked up when she complained that her views as a preservationist were being mistaken as those of a racist. “This is not about race,'' Mrs. Cooney said, her voice cracking with emotion. “It's about history. We've watched piece by piece this neighborhood being taken away.”

But others disagreed.

Allan Smith, one of a handful of African-American business owners on Collingwood, said he considered the street renaming an honor and didn't mind taking on the expense of changing signs and letterhead.

Mr. Smith said he didn't feel history would be lost by the change in name, but a chance for the community to create a new history.

He said he felt the protest against the renaming was purely racial. “If we weren't talking about a black man, there wouldn't be this controversy,” Mr. Smith said, followed by a chorus of voices saying, “That's not true.”

Others urged that race shouldn't play a role in the street renaming.

“We need to make a recommendation; we need to do it for the right reasons,” said the Rev. Edwin Yates, pastor of Good Samaritan Parish Church, 720 West Delaware Ave. “It shouldn't be because its black or white. If that's the case, shame on all of us.”

There were times when comments crossed racial lines.

Old West End resident Mary Clare Rietz challenged her neighbors to consider what would be lost and gained with the name change.

“Do I want Collingwood to be renamed?” Ms. Rietz asked. “It's not my first choice. ... But I am more than willing to agree to its renaming as a way of graciously saying to the African-American men and women of the community, `I'll give you my respect, and I open myself to being in relationship with you.'”

Some whites, like Ms. Rietz, spoke in favor of renaming the street. Some blacks, like Jean Holden, an Old West End resident and well-known entertainer, said she would like to see something built in Dr. King's honor rather than naming a street for him.

And there were pleas for a peaceful resolution - away from the heated rhetoric that has dominated the issue.

The Rev. Robert Culp, pastor of First Church of God, 3015 Collingwood, who is a member of the renaming committee, seemed to soften his position while calling for unity.

“I'm not adamant that it will be Collingwood,” Mr. Culp, an Old West End resident, said in some of the last remarks at the meeting. “I'm not going to lose sleep over it. I will lose sleep on some of the things that have been said.”

In the end, the committee didn't indicate whether it would stick with Collingwood and recommend the name change to Mayor Finkbeiner or whether it would defer to another street. They are to make the recommendation by Sunday.

Jimmy Gaines, a city administrator who is a member of the renaming committee, told the meeting that he didn't expect the powerful sentiment against the renaming Collingwood for Dr. King.

He said the committee selected Collingwood after more than a month of researching city streets.

He said initial talks with residents and business owners along Collingwood proved positive, but emotions immediately turned after the committee sent out letters this month announcing a meeting to discuss the renaming of the street.

“We went door-to-door, and I only found one person who told me no,” Mr. Gaines told the audience. “I really thought we had a winner. Boy, were we wrong.”

Wiliam Hill makes his appeal for keeping Collingwood Boulevard's name intact. Wiliam Hill makes his appeal for keeping Collingwood Boulevard's name intact.
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William Hill, a history teacher at Sylvania Southview High School who lives in the Old West End, said he was against the street being renamed for Dr. King, even though he met Dr. King during marches in Alabama in the 1960s.

“He didn't care what color I was or if I was black or white,” Mr. Hill said to claps of approval from the audience. “He wanted us to work together. I don't support the street being renamed. I chose the neighborhood because of its history, and I've learned more there in six months than I've learned in the previous 35 years here.”

William Catlin, a Parkwood Avenue resident, said he didn't believe Collingwood was significant enough for Dr. King.

“I think we as blacks lost our battle when they named a token bridge after Dr. King,” Mr. Catlin said, referring to the former Cherry Street Bridge. “And now we're jumping into the middle of Collingwood. It's not right. I want one of those [Keep it Collingwood] signs in my yard.”

James Strange, also of the Old West End, said there seemed to be limits placed on which streets should be renamed for Dr. King, and those limits only fueled the negative debate.

“This meeting is not supposed to be about arguments and disputes,” Mr. Strange said. “There should be no street too sacred for his honor. Is there a way we can intelligently name a street after Dr. King? We have to leave all these other hidden agendas out of our minds and hearts.”

Maggie Thurber, Toledo clerk of courts, suggested naming the river walk along Swan Creek for Dr. King, and placing plaques along the route describing the civil rights movement.

William Frisk, an Old West End resident who lives on Glenwood Avenue, made the suggestion of renaming the street, “Collingwood Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue of Churches.”

Betty Link, who lives on Doyle Street in North Toledo, suggested that an arch be built at Collingwood and Dorr Street, with the name Martin Luther King, Jr., neighborhood.

Leonard Mosley, a minister at United Church of God in Christ, 624 Junction Ave., suggested that Collingwood, from the Anthony Wayne Trail to Monroe Street, be named for Dr. King, thus giving the committee its access to the freeway while allowing the Old West End to retain the Collingwood history.

Others reiterated previous suggestions - renaming Cherry Street or the Buckeye Basin Greenbelt Parkway.

WilliAnn Moore, chairwoman of the committee and president of the Toledo branch of the NAACP, said the committee will complete its report for Mr. Finkbeiner before the Sunday deadline.

She said it will be up to the mayor to then accept or reject the committee's recommendation and make his own street renaming recommendation to city council.

Collingwood, long known as the avenue of churches, became a veritable boulevard of culture.

The street was named after Cuthbert Collingwood, a British admiral who was second in command in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar. His heroics earned him the title Baron Collingwood.

The street also is believed to honor Sanford L. Collins, active in Toledo civic and development life more than a century ago.

Collingwood was known originally as the Old Territorial Road, a route from Toledo to Angola, Ind., which was opened through to Richfield Township in 1834-35.

Mr. Collins and a brother arranged for the clearing and fencing of their farm and all the woods on both sides of the road. Maps of 1852 show the name as Old Territorial Road, but a Toledo directory of 1860 first lists it as Collingwood Avenue.

The Martin Luther King, Jr., Bridge was dedicated on Sept. 2, 1989, after then-city Councilman Jack Ford proposed the renaming of the Cherry Street Bridge. 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 and Wil Clay.

But the Rev. Floyd Rose, a civil rights activist who was a former NAACP Toledo branch president, 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 supported renaming Dorr Street for Dr. King.

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



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