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Council debate on Young Dolph street renaming gives way to unanimous vote

by James Coleman —

A proposed street name change turned into a debate about a man’s legacy as the Memphis City Council mulled and ultimately unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday (Dec. 7) to honor slain rapper Young Dolph with an honorary street naming.

“For those of you on the fence, there have been many people to come and ask for honorary street name changes and we approved them without question. We approved it without even looking into their details,” said Councilman JB Smiley Jr., who sponsored the resolution 

“But when we have a young Black man, who pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, we have the audacity to question it. I don’t think any of us would be proud if our skeletons were hanging out in front of the public.” 

Dolph, 36, whose legal name was Adolph Robert Thornton Jr., was slain Nov. 19 while patronizing Makeda’s Homemade Butter Cookies on Airways Boulevard in the Charjean area. 

A surveillance camera showed two gunmen exiting a white Mercedes and firing through the shopfront. No arrests have been made. 

In addition to being an inspiring and philanthropic fixture in the Castalia Heights community where he grew up, the late rapper was notable among his peers for eschewing more lucrative opportunities to remain an independent artist. 

“Up until his last days, he came to this community for a turkey drive. Up until his last days he went to a small-loan business to support it. When you look at the record, you will see that he invested millions of dollars into the community, millions of dollars into people,” Smiley said.

“That is the type of person we should be honoring and recognizing.” 

Family and community members spoke in support of the resolution that will honorarily name a stretch of Dunn Avenue, between Airways and Paige Road, Adolph Thornton, Jr. Road.

It will be marked by several plaques, however, the street name and mailing addresses will stay the same. 

The resolution, which eventually passed unanimously on a voice vote, drew circumspection from several council members, including some female members of the council.

Like many male counterparts in the rap genre, Thornton introduced lyrics into his music that have been viewed by critics as misogynistic.

“I don’t have any problem with the young man in and of itself. I’m just an old lady and I don’t like rap. And I don’t like what he talked about in the rap, but that has nothing to do with his character and what he did in this community,” said Councilwoman Patrice Robinson during the Planning and Zoning Committee meeting.

Councilwoman Rhonda Logan said, “I did not add my name to this (as a sponsor), not because Young Dolph wasn’t a great father, philanthropist.… It’s not a matter of him personally, it’s just a matter of an honorary street name, as you would give Martin Luther King or Ida B. Wells. I didn’t see that correlation there.”

Additionally, the council voted to accept a report of the city’s renaming commission, which has developed a shortlist of three recommendations for streets and parks.

The first on the list is an ordinance to rename the section of Fourth Street between Union Avenue and E. H. Crump Boulevard to Ida B. Wells-Barnett Street. The first reading is slated for Dec. 21. Property owners will be given notice of the possible changes afterward.

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