Effort to rename street stalls

January 7, 2009

SELMA — Relatives and friends of one of Alabama’s first black lawyers asked a city panel Tuesday night to honor him by renaming a street that now car­ries the name of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Those wanting to honor the late civil rights attorney J.L. Chestnut attended a meeting by the City Council’s administra­tive committee. Most of the 90-minute session was consum­ed by procedural matters, and that upset Chestnut’s relatives.

"They make motions for ev­erything else to get things done, but for some reason, this has gone back and forth," said Vivi­an Chestnut, who asked the committee to approve proce­dures so that a vote can be made by the full City Council on re­naming the street in honor of her father.

Chestnut also urged commit­tee members to put a time limit on an eventual decision. Her frustration was evident.

"I don’t think any considera­tion is being given to what this is putting my family through," she said. "I’m sick of it, and it’s my Daddy. I’m sick and tired of what seems to be drawn out for­ever."

J.L. Chestnut died Sept. 30 at the age of 77. Several sugges­tions have been made to perpet­uate the memory of Chestnut, who made his mark in Selma’s legal community when he began practicing in the late 1950s.

The initial effort by family members was to rename the courthouse for Chestnut, who represented victims and ac­cused killers during hundreds of trials.

That bid was thwarted when the County Commission failed to vote in favor of renaming the courthouse. The next effort was to rename a major street in Sel­ma for Chestnut.

Jeff Davis Avenue, as it is known, intersects at one point with Martin Luther King Jr. Street. It is believed to be the only intersection of its kind in the country.

The intersection is near where Chestnut and his part­ners once represented clients. Nearby is a radio station built by the law firm.

During the meeting, a family friend suggested renaming Broad Street in honor of Chest­nut, but Councilman Cecil Wil­liamson indicated later that was unlikely.

"It’s a federal highway, and I don’t think the government will rename it," said Williamson. Broad Street also is U.S. 80, which courses through the downtown business district and continues on to the Mississippi state line.

Before the City Council can vote on whether to rename Jeff Davis Avenue, a survey will be taken of residents and business owners along the street to see if they approve of the measure. The City Council could take up the issue in February.

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