Jan 4, 2011

Xernona Clayton (center) is applauded by Ted Turner (left), Mayor Shirley Franklin (right) and attendees to the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame event at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site on Aug. 26, 2005. Clayton is the creator of the Walk of Fame, a display of footprints of "foot soldiers" for human rights.
Via AJC:

For a greater part of a half century, most roads in Atlanta led in some way to John Portman and Xernona Clayton.

On Monday, the Atlanta City Council put up a road block, by voting 9-5 to refer back to committee a controversial proposal that would have renamed two key downtown streets for the developer and civil rights and broadcast icon.

After what turned out to be a contentious daylong debate, the council essentially threw out the work of two commissions that worked for a year to recommend the changes to honor the two.

"It is a waste of time for us to empower a group and give them options, then not take actions on what the recommendations are going to be," council member Keisha Bottoms said. "If we don't want a particular option, we need to take that option off the table."

In what was already a controversial measure, the council's vote delays a plan to rename Cone Street to Xernona Clayton Way and Harris Street to John C. Portman Boulevard.

"People like John Portman built this city," said John Hindsley, chairman of the Clayton Commission. "And people like Xernona Clayton gave it its soul."

Dozens of people packed the City Council chambers to lobby both sides of the issue. Among the supporters for the changes were former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who has a street named after him.

Young, who as mayor once offered to name what eventually became Peachtree Center Boulevard for Portman, said before the vote that the council had to step up and find the strength to make hard decisions.

"People didn't want Ga. 400 or the Carter Library. Nobody cared about the Olympics," Young said. "Everything we have done in the city has taken courage. John Portman should have designed the Olympic [cauldron]. We have something that looks like the 'Bridge over the River Kwai.' John Portman would have built a symbol of Atlanta that would have been known all over the world, but we didn't have the courage to let him do it. Be courageous and do what is right for our city."

The council's decision weighed heavily on policy, as well as strong outcries against the changes from the downtown Neighborhood Planning Unit.

The law requires, among other things, a 75 percent approval from businesses and residents on the street; that the entire street be renamed and not simply sections of it; and that the group wanting to rename the street pay a $2,500 fee to cover expenses as well as post a bond with the Department of Public Works to pay for future maintenance costs involving the name change, such as for new signs. It also requires input from neighborhood planning units, historical preservation groups and an appearance before the Urban Design Commission.


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