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Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. interests with South Jeff Davis Pkwy in New Orleans, La. Monday, June 8, 2020 (Photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Who better? That answer is an almost automatic response to the idea of renaming Jeff Davis Parkway for a prominent New Orleanian who has meant so much to the Crescent City for decades.

Norman C. Francis is a gentleman of not only great distinction but of enormous and long-term commitment to his university, his city and the state of Louisiana.

The statement by Mayor LaToya Cantrell and a platoon of former mayors of New Orleans should serve to unify the city and focus attention not on the old street signs to be removed but on the new ones than will take their places.

“This is not solely to remove the reference to Jefferson Davis, although that notion stands on its own and requires no explanation,” the mayors wrote.

The street renaming was requested by Xavier University’s friends on the A.P. Tureaud Legacy Committee. A petition drew the support of members of the City Council as well as prominent New Orleanians like U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond.

Norman Francis’ legacy cries out for recognition, though he is a modest man who would not have sought it.

That legacy is enormous and positive, and the parkway runs through Xavier University, where Francis was president and served through years of growth as well as hardship from 1968 to 2015.

As a historically black and Catholic university, Xavier’s mission informed Francis’ values even as his stewardship formed and grew the institution itself. The list of leadership roles Francis held is too long to repeat here, but his work extended far beyond his campus or even his city. His roles encompassed not only educational groups and causes but those of civil rights during a time of great change in this nation.

Because of Francis’ national stature, he was a key appointment by the late Gov. Kathleen Blanco to head the Louisiana Recovery Authority in the wake of the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Louisiana desperately needed someone whose reputation transcended politics and could speak directly to the national and international leaders who wanted to help, amid a great deal of bureaucratic and institutional chaos.

Norman Francis was at that moment a truly indispensable leader. His roles in New Orleans may be more prominent in the eyes of the local leadership, but a Norman C. Francis Parkway would be a recognition — as was the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006 — of his wider-ranging contributions to his state and nation.

We endorse this name change. Who better?

Rename Jeff Davis Parkway for Dr. Norman Francis, New Orleans mayors say in powerful editorial