If some members of the Memphis City Council have their way, “201 Poplar Ave.” will become “201 Black Lives Matter Ave.”
“This name change is largely symbolic, but it represents our move toward the full civil rights we have been working toward for centuries,” said Councilwoman Michalyn Easter-Thomas. “It gives current leadership notice to redirect all of our policies, legislation and budget to reflect that which we have to live up to.”
Easter-Thomas spoke at a press conference Monday at the Hall of Mayors in City Hall. A resolution to rename Poplar Avenue between Front Street and Danny Thomas Blvd. is scheduled for a second vote on today’s regularly scheduled council meeting. Passage by a majority would launch an official renaming event.
A Black Lives Matter Renaming Committee will be named if the resolution is approved, said Easter-Thomas.
Co-sponsor of the resolution, J.B. Smiley, said the move to rename that portion of Poplar is, indeed, largely symbolic, but “very important.”
“We are a new kind of leadership,” Smiley said. “Look around at these officials who are here today with us. We are leaders who have courage enough to do what is right. We don’t want to be the kind of leaders who want to get the black vote out and then go missing on issues such as this.”
Council members Dr. Jeff Warren and Martavius Jones were also present to support Easter-Thomas and Smiley. They did not address the media.
“Those of you who are being held at 201 on some trumped up charges, we see you,” Easter-Thomas said. “Black businesses that have not gotten your share of contracts, we agree with you.”
“Black people,” said Easter-Thomas, “are crying out for the city of Memphis to see us, to fight for us, to protect us and to let us live.”
Declaring that, “We are to something new. We are on to something different,” Smiley said, “We want every young person who lives in this city or who come to this city to feel that they are welcome and treated with the dignity and respect everyone deserves.”
Similar moves to honor the Black Lives Matter movement have surfaced elsewhere.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in early June that a street in each of the city’s boroughs would be renamed for the Black Lives Matter movement.
In Washington D.C., two city blocks of 16th Street, just north of the White House, have been renamed Black Lives Matter Road, with large, yellow letters painted on the street that was renamed. The intersection is now being called “Black Lives Matter Plaza.”
In Atlanta, 50-ft. letters reading “Black Lives Matter” dot the Atlanta Beltway. Although not officially commissioned, the message has been allowed to remain.
Easter-Thomas spoke of divine guidance in moving to seek the renaming of the stretch of Poplar Ave. called for in the resolution.
“This stretch of Poplar highlights where our deepest and darkest secrets lie,” she said. “It is the gateway to the city, if you will. Other sites were looked at as I consulted with others. But this is the site chosen. God put it on my heart. The Lord told me.”