Name change keeps Chestnut living
Published 8:32 pm Wednesday, September 2, 2009
There is an African Proverb which says, “Our ancestors continue to live as long as we call their names.” That’s how I commenced my remarks at the J. L. Chestnut, Jr. Street Naming and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony. I will share a combination of what I said and/or would have said had time permitted.
It is fitting that Jeff Davis Avenue will be named J. L. Chestnut Jr. Boulevard. Every time we say, “Go to J. L. Chestnut Jr. Boulevard and turn right” or, ”Go to J. L. Chestnut, Jr. Boulevard and turn left,” his name will be called and he will live in our hearts and our minds. Every time we cross J. L. Chestnut Jr. Boulevard and recognize the name even if it is not called out, he will live in our hearts and minds. Every time we go to a home or business on the boulevard, we will remember J. L. Chestnut Jr. and he will live in our hearts and minds.
To be sure, we will not just remember his name but the person. We will remember the great trial lawyer whom other lawyers came to see and learn from when he was trying a case; who was the moving force in securing over $1 billion for Black farmers; who waived the right to receive even one penny of the billion dollars as attorney fees so the U. S. Congress would pass a law to extend the statute of limitations (the time in which to file a lawsuit) back from 1996, (just two years), to 1981, (15 years); who caused his own law firm to go broke in this massive effort to help others without adequate compensation for himself; who was recognized as one of the 10 greatest Black Legal Legends.
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When we call the name J. L. Chestnut Jr. Boulevard, we will remember the great freedom fighter who helped represent Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Selma struggles; who filed a lawsuit that enabled black people to sit on the Selma City Council, the body which adopted this very name change; who fought and prevailed on so many freedom fronts.
When we call the name J. L. Chestnut Jr. Boulevard, we will remember the man who lifted people; who made people feel good about themselves and each other; who could come into a room full of solemn folks and have them laughing and rising above their problems in no time at all.
When the name J. L. Chestnut, Jr. Boulevard is called, we will remember the great humanitarian who tried to help others even as he sacrificed himself; who would take his last and give to those in need; who would take cases for those who had no money to pay; who helped all who asked.
After today, this will not be an avenue or a street, but the Boulevard. And when we call the name J. L. Chestnut, Jr. Boulevard, he will continue to live in our hearts and minds as the great lawyer, the great freedom fighter, the great communicator, the great leader, the great humanitarian.
State Sen. Hank Sanders represents Dallas County in the Alabama Legislature.