CC Road debate begins

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 12, 2006

AHOSKIE – Judging from the comments made during a public hearing here Tuesday, it appears everyone agrees that naming an Ahoskie street in honor of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an excellent idea.

However, one question is yet unanswered….which street?

One group favors Catherine Creek (CC) Road to be renamed in honor of slain civil rights leader. Another group is open to other ideas in an effort to preserve history.

In front of a standing-room only crowd, members of the Ahoskie Town Council spent the better part of 45 minutes of Tuesday’s meeting listening while individuals debated the issue during a public hearing.

The matter was briefly discussed during the council’s meeting in September. It was decided at that time to hold a public hearing at the October meeting.

Tuesday’s public input session began with Annie Mobley, a proponent of renaming CC Road in honor of Dr. King, yielding the floor to anyone opposing the idea.

John Fritz, who co-owns a bed and breakfast business in the historic Jernigan house located on CC Road, said he was not in opposition of honoring Dr. King, but rather opposed to renaming history.

“We have gone to great lengths to establish historic districts here in Ahoskie,” Fritz said. “We’ve worked hard to get our hands on Ahoskie’s history. Catherine Creek Road is a part of that history. It does not make sense to rename history.”

Fritz produced a copy of an old Ahoskie map, one showing only four named streets in the town n CC Road, Main Street, Maple Street and Catherine Street.

Robert Lee Gatling, whose family owned the historic Gatling house in Ahoskie, said he did not object to honoring Dr. King. However, like Fritz, Gatling was more concerned about preserving the town’s history.

“Catherine Creek Road is listed on maps as early as 1804, even before there was a town of Ahoskie,” Gatling said. “Then, when the town was incorporated, Catherine Creek Road was its first street. I’m very concerned about the idea of losing a part of our history, but I do favor honoring Dr. King.”

Before the public debate began, Ahoskie Town Manager Tony Hammond said the town code makes no mention of particular requirements or restrictions on renaming a road in honor of anyone. He added that the state Department of Transportation, which maintains CC Road, also does not list any type of requirements.

“While it’s not required by the state, the town’s recommendation is to have the lead person proposing this name change to circulate a petition and have it favorably signed by 50 percent of the individuals that own property on the proposed road to be renamed,” Hammond said.

Mobley informed the council that she has circulated a petition to have CC Road n from Memorial Drive to the northern town limits near Malibu Drive n named for Dr. King. However, she did admit that some of the signatures on the petition were from individuals that did not reside or own property on CC Road.

“I appeal to the Town of Ahoskie to give credence to a man who meant so much to so many, not just blacks, but for all mankind,” Mobley noted. “Renaming this road is what is right.”

Three others n Rev. Matthew Silver, J.C. Watford and Winfred Hardy n echoed Mobley’s thoughts.

In an eloquent address to council members, Rev. Silver said he was proud of Ahoskie’s history, but added that in today’s world, change is acceptable.

Hardy, Hertford County’s former Sheriff, said he also respected the town’s history.

“We don’t need to put his name on a back street,” Hardy suggested. “We need to put his name where all can see.”

Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn inquired if consideration had been given to name any other street in Dr. King’s honor.

“I don’t mind the change, but I do have a feel for the history of this town,” the Mayor said. “If we’re going to do this, we need to do it right.”

Fritz reentered the discussion by suggesting renaming Memorial Drive, the town’s busiest street, in Dr. King’s honor.

Mobley then added to her suggestion n renaming not only CC Road from Memorial Drive to Malibu Drive in honor of Dr. King, but making that change as well on the Ahoskie-Cofield Road.

“I appeal to you not to set-up barriers on this issue, barriers we will have a tough time overcoming,” she said. “Let’s come together on this. Let’s discuss this.”

“We will not set-up any barriers on the issue,” Blackburn promised. “We need to look at this collectively before a decision is made. My only concern is that we are not discussing any alternatives, other streets that could be renamed.”

On his way to leaving the meeting, Gatling added one final comment.

“I’ve met Dr. King,” he said. “I’ve broken bread with Dr. King. “I believe in my heart that Dr. King would not want us to sacrifice a part of our history by renaming a road in his honor.”

As the debate closed, Hammond proposed conducting an evening workshop, open to the public, to further address the issue. On that note, Mobley suggested the workshop be held in a larger venue in order to accommodate a large crowd.

On Wednesday morning, the Town of Ahoskie announced it will host a workshop concerning the issue from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19. That meeting, open to the public, will be held at Town Hall.