J.L. Chestnut Boulevard to be renamed Aug. 26

Published 9:52 pm Friday, August 7, 2009

Officials with the City of Selma are preparing for a formal street naming and ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 26 at the First Baptist Church to honor attorney J.L. Chestnut Jr.

Several months ago the Selma City Council voted to rename Jeff Davis Avenue as J.L. Chestnut Boulevard. The ceremony will conclude on the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and the former Jeff Davis Avenue.

“Attorney Chestnut leaves behind a legacy of service to his community, particularly in the area of civil rights,” said Mayor George Evans. “The new J.L. Chestnut Jr. Boulevard will honor his commitment to education and his dedication to justice and equality.”

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Chestnut was the first black attorney to practice law in Selma. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Chestnut represented marchers, demonstrators and civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Dick Gregory, Joseph Lowery and Dr. Bernard LaFayette.

Chestnut died of kidney failure in September 2008 after an illness of several months at the age of 77.

Chestnut was born in Selma on Dec. 16, 1930. He attended schools here and graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans before going to law school at Howard University. He moved back to the South to work for civil rights after the ruling to desegregate schools came out of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Brown v. Board of Education.

Chestnut wrote an autobiography with Julia Cass, “Black in Selma,” which gave his view of the area and its politics.

Chestnut’s family and friends are expected at the ceremony. Daughter Gerald C. Riberio called the street naming, “a monumental achievement not only for our family, but for the city of Selma.”

In a telephone interview, she said she had a hard time explaining how having a street named for her father made her feel.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” she said.

Riberio said she hopes the ceremony and subsequent change of the street name will bring healing to Selma and bring the city together.