Some residents prefer to rename Jeff Davis Avenue

Published 10:15 pm Friday, October 17, 2008

Some residents along Jeff Davis Avenue think renaming at least part of the Selma thoroughfare for J.L. Chestnut Jr. is a good idea.

“It should’ve been named while he was living. I don’t see why people would have any problem with this street being named after him,” said L.C. Pickett, an employee at Gayle’s Construction.

Pickett was an acquaintance of Chestnut’s. “I just hate it wasn’t named after him before he passed. He would’ve had a chance to see it.”

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Chestnut, Selma’s first black attorney and a civil rights icon in Alabama, died about two weeks ago.

Earlier this week, the Rev. Franklin Fortier asked the Selma City Council to consider renaming Jeff Davis in honor of Chestnut. Fortier said the council’s move would acknowledge the “complete history” of Selma and Chestnut’s role in that history.

“Without an attorney J.L. Chestnut, we would not have a Selma today that’s doing what it’s doing.”

The city’s process to name a street includes a survey of those who live or have businesses along the proposed area, a presentation to the council and a council vote.

Dr. I.B. Hopson owns a dental practice on Jeff Davis Avenue. Hopson said he grew up with the Chestnut family. At one time, Hopson’s practice was next door to Chestnut’s law office on Jeff Davis. The two men came to know each other as business neighbors.

“I think it would be great because he did a lot for Selma,” Hopson said. “He put himself out there at a time when it wasn’t popular. He did a lot. He sacrificed a lot of his own life.”

Val Harris at George’s Paint and Body shop on Jeff Davis disagreed with re-naming the street because of the logistical mess caused by changing names.

“You’d have to change everything,” Harris said. “It’d be a lot expense and a lot of trouble.”

Harries worried that the business would have to change anything containing the body shop’s address. She also raised concerns about getting mail delivered to the proper address.

“We already had to change everything when the new post office came because our P.O. box no longer existed,” Harris explained.

She suggested naming a building after Chestnut or putting up a sign in recognition of his contributions to civil rights.

Harris’ suggestion goes along with opinions of other city council members. Councilwoman Jean Martin of Ward 3 suggested forming a group to investigate the best way to honor Chestnut’s memory.

“Who knows? There may be a building,” Martin said.

Council President George Evans said the council isn’t opposed to naming a street after Chestnut, but the governmental body must follow a procedure.

Evans also said he’d like to see a place in Selma where all citizens who have made a contribution would be honored with a bust or monument as opposed to a street.

“This would have meaning, purpose and would help bring in tourism.”