One of Baton Rouge’s downtown streets could get a name change to honor the city’s noted civil rights leader T.J. Jemison, who organized the nation’s first bus boycott and led Mount Zion First Baptist Church on East Boulevard.
Jemison died two years ago at age 95, and his leadership in the civil rights movement inspired the Louisiana Legislature this session to approve commissioning a statue of him on the State Capitol Complex. State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, said she and Jemison’s family members have also hoped for years to have a street named after him.
They believe East Boulevard — the home of Mount Zion — is the perfect place to do it. Dorsey-Colomb is proposing the change on a small stretch of the street.
“T.J. Jemison Boulevard” would span part of East Boulevard and North Ninth Street, running from Government Street to Florida Street.
“His legacy in Baton Rouge starts there, on East Boulevard,” said his 58-year-old son, Ted Jemison.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Oct. 19 on the name change proposal.
Though Dorsey-Colomb collected signatures of most property owners on the street — including First United Methodist Church, Haymer Law Firm and Guaranty Income Life Insurance Co. — the name change would not come without complications.
Frank Duke, planning director, said he has heard rumblings but has seen no formal opposition yet. One complaint is that East Boulevard’s name already changes multiple times.
The road switches from North Ninth Street to East Boulevard to Thomas H. Delpit Drive. Adding “T.J. Jemison Boulevard” into the mix could make it more confusing for drivers.
The name East Boulevard dates back to 1806, said Downtown Development District Executive Director Davis Rhorer. The street is part of the original Beauregard Town neighborhood boundaries, along with North Boulevard and South Boulevard.
Beauregard Town Neighborhood Association leader Neal Novak said the association just heard about the proposed name change within the past week. He said he is trying to talk to those pushing for the change to better understand their thought process behind renaming the street.
Duke said the Planning Commission is also checking with agencies like EMS and 911 to see if a name change could cause problems for them.
Dorsey-Colomb and Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who represents the area, both said they have not heard of any opposition to the renaming. Dorsey-Colomb brushed off complaints about the name change being confusing or affecting Beauregard Town history.
She said many streets in Baton Rouge change names over their course, and people are smart enough to figure it out.
Dorsey-Colomb also led the push for the Jemison statue at the State Capitol, calling Jemison a father figure to her. She said his actions in Baton Rouge and in other parts of the world where he went on mission trips show how deserving he is of having a street named after him.
“He did so many things that are known and unknown for the community,” she said. “He was a kind, giving and generous man who loved the Lord, and I just think it’s appropriate to honor it.”
The younger Jemison, who plans to attend the Planning Commission meeting, said he is thankful beyond words that people in Baton Rouge want to commemorate his father.
“Dad wasn’t one to relish receiving accolades,” Ted Jemison added. “His ministry was the service. Even his prayer, it centered around a prayer for others. He wasn’t one to put himself forward in getting the reward, so to speak.”
The Metro Council already unanimously approved renaming the street in February, but did not follow the proper procedure to do so. Dorsey-Colomb first needed to collect signatures from property owners on the street and to go before the Planning Commission.
This time around, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing before making a recommendation to the Metro Council. The council will have the final say on whether the name change passes.
Mayor-President Kip Holden did not return a request for comment.
Wicker said she expects the council will approve the name change proposal a second time.
The Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Oct. 19 at City Hall.