There are ideas whose time has come, and then there’s this idea, whose time is long overdue.
Students in an advanced-placement history class at Washington High School have gotten the ball rolling on their proposal to rename Cherry Avenue in Washington for a pair of well-known civil rights leaders.
The east side of Cherry, off South Main Street, would be named Martin Luther King Avenue, and the west side, near Washington County Courthouse, would be named Louis E. Waller Way in honor of the noted Washington civil rights figure.
Jeff Bunner, Washington High School history and social studies teacher, said every year his students have a year-end project.
“I give the kids something to do, and it always involves something they can leave to posterity. Sometimes we try to do something for the community.”
During a discussion of civil rights, Bunner said students learned that locally there is no Martin Luther King Boulevard, and they decided to mount an attempt to rename a local street for him. Nationally, said Bunner, there are between 900 and 1,000 Martin Luther King Boulevards.
The class of 17 advanced-placement students viewed a documentary on King and also charted local civil rights history from the same period, creating a parallel timeline of national and local civil rights events. That led them to study Waller’s impact on the Washington area.
“We didn’t know that it was such a big movement here in Washington,” said junior Isabel Marshall.
Fellow junior Gerald Comedy said students learned that Waller, who died in 2009, was instrumental in desegregating Washington schools, restaurants, theaters and even the local swimming pool.
“It’s shocking to realize that was our grandparents that lived through that,” said junior Kassie Harmon. “It wasn’t that long ago. We want people to know about what they did.”
When it came to Waller, the students got a guiding hand from his daughter, Phyllis Waller, former president of the NAACP in Washington.
She’s among those elated by the students’ effort on her father’s behalf.
“I’m very excited about this project,” she said. “I’m sure he would be, too, if he was alive.”
Initially, the Wash High students thought about trying to rename Allison Avenue, which runs past the high school, but it’s a largely residential area, and the move would force many residents to change their addresses. Hence, the focus on Cherry Avenue, where only a few businesses and property owners would be affected.
Bunner and some of his students made their first official foray into getting Cherry’s name changed when they appeared at a City Council meeting Monday to seek support from local officials.
Mayor Scott Putnam said the students will need to give notice of their plan to tenants, businesses and property owners in the affected area and collect feedback. Then, a public hearing will be scheduled. Putnam doesn’t expect much opposition.
“I think there’s good reason for it to happen,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, it will work out well for everybody.”
Wash High junior Alexis Hayes said the goal of the students’ research and their proposal was “especially in this climate, to shine some light on the steps we made and the steps we need to make moving forward.”
Renaming Cherry Avenue for two giants of the civil rights movement would be that kind of forward step.