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Why the delay over MLK?



Now taking bets on how long it will be before the controversy in Chapel Hill over renaming Airport Road to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard fades into oblivion. Years? Months? Weeks?

That's debatable, perhaps, but what's not debatable is that further indecision will only serve to keep the flames of outrage that the Town Council might force some folks to update their letterhead from dying down.

The matter finally is scheduled for a vote on Monday.

In Chapel Hill there are often three sides to every story--pro, con and "don't want to hurt anybody's feelings."

This is one of those issues that has been on the boil for so long that there's no way to avoid some hard feelings. Over three public hearings the council has heard from dozens of folks complaining about the hardships--the aforementioned letterhead change and the worry that UPS won't be able to find the house--they would endure if the road is renamed.

Less loud has been the side in favor of the change. It seems a little strange, though, that they should have to restate the case that King was a unique leader preaching nonviolence at a time when the South was at a fever pitch. They shouldn't have to remind wavering council members that his 1960 visit to town at a crucial phase in Chapel Hill's own civil rights struggle bolstered the Lincoln High School and UNC students bucking the older generation and demanding the end to segregation; or that when he spoke to a predominately black audience at the Hargraves Center and a predominately white one at Hill Hall, he spoke of the hope that an America divided by race could one day come together.

And the leaders of the NAACP, who have steadily built the case for the name change, shouldn't have to remind the four council members and the mayor who won the last election that they pledged to support the idea.

Having witnessed a few of last year's election forums, I don't recall them being asked if they would support it as long as nobody kicks up a fuss. This is not a council that has shrunk from taking tough decisions over the years. Toughening land use rules and switching garbage pickup from backyards to the curb were decisions made while citizens railed against them.

So why the hitch on the name change?

They were asked, point blank, "yes or no." All five--a majority of the council--said they would support it. Either they meant what they said or they didn't.

The only way to find out is to put it to a vote. How about Monday?

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