by Jordan Green
High Point City Councilman Jim Davis sat on the dais after the meeting had adjourned on Monday night and explained his reservations about renaming a prominent street in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
His remarks were made for the benefit of the Rev. Frank Thomas, pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church and president of the Ministers Conference of High Point and Vicinity, and Charity Belton. Thomas was looking for a commitment from council — including at least two white members needed to cobble together a majority — to get behind the initiative.
Councilman Jeff Golden, who as one of three black members on council is taking the lead on the effort, listened patiently and occasionally tried to interject gentle counterarguments.
Davis’ main point, articulated in a relaxed and candid fashion, was that whatever the will of the majority of property owners on the street, he will vote accordingly.
The city council will hold a public hearing on March 17 to hear input from citizens on a proposal by Golden to rename Green Drive, a thoroughfare that runs from Interstate 74 in the east past the Municipal Building and through the heart of the furniture market district before winding through the heavily industrialized southwest quadrant to Business 40, in honor of King. Depending on the public reaction, the council could then vote to refer the matter to the planning and zoning commission for consideration.
Davis cautioned that the city needs to keep furniture showroom owners happy, citing a previous effort to rename a different street Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
“When we were talking about Kivett Drive, there were people who owned businesses — I got emails from people in Maryland, Washington DC that they bought this building — some guy said, ‘I paid $117,000 in property taxes, and I don’t want the street named that; that’s the reason I bought over there.’ You’ll hear all kinds of things. They’ll say that crime goes up because you change the name of the street. This or that will happen. My thing is, I don’t care what the name of the street is, as long as the people who are owners have a fair say in it.”
Davis said he and his colleagues on council are hearing from only a small number of people who want the street renamed. Golden, who represents predominantly African-American Ward 1, riposted that a significant number of his constituents want the change.
Davis said he has to listen to his constituents. His ward covers the northwestern suburbs, through which Green Drive does not pass.
“I represent Ward 5, which is mostly middle-class, upper-middle class business owners, college-educated, management-type people,” Davis said. “For years and years we had one section of town west of Main Street that has run this city, okay? Now, these people have a voice because we have the burden of paying all the taxes. We’re the majority of taxpayers, behind the furniture market. So they are very vocal. And me being new on council. And I approached them. I grew up in that area all my life. Everybody knows me. They don’t mind calling me up and telling me their opinions. And I listen to those people.”
Davis said he similarly approached a proposal to “diet,” or lighten vehicular traffic on North Main Street to make it more pedestrian friendly. Aside from people associated with the City Project, he only heard from people who were opposed to the initiative. So he voted against it.
He indicated that he’ll be looking for something other than a council chamber jammed with people to determine his vote.
“I guarantee you that 90 percent of the people you bring are not going to live on Green Street, and that’s where I’m going to have a problem with that,” Davis said. “But if you bring 50 percent of the people on Green Street and 50 percent of the people from across the city, I don’t have a problem with that.”
The Rev. Thomas told Davis: “This issue is bigger than any resident on any street.”
Councilwoman Judy Mendenhall, a former mayor and former president of the International Home Furnishings Market, steered the council towards an alternative to Golden’s motion that ensured property owners would be heard before any change was made, with a parliamentary assist from Councilman Jay Wagner.
It’s not lost on Golden that virtually every other city in the United States except High Point has a Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
“It’s time for High Point to stop making excuses,” he said. “Not doing it sends a message of divisiveness to people who notice we don’t have one.
“We say we’re an international community, but I don’t think we’re very diverse,” Golden added. “It is [international] during market, but I think we’re very divided.”