New Orleans is preparing to rechristen a host of streets originally named for figures whose views on race put them on the wrong side of history, and some of the options have generated debate.
There was no such controversy over the first major change.
Officially off the map, as of Jan. 1, is Jefferson Davis Parkway, named during the Jim Crow era after the president of the Confederacy. Replacing it is Norman C. Francis Parkway, after the longtime president of Xavier University and a towering figure in Louisiana’s journey toward equality. What could be more fitting?
Francis led the historically Black, Catholic university for nearly half a century, building it into a revered institution and preparing generations of students for their professional lives. One of them, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, was on hand last week at a ceremony to mark the occasion.
“It’s hard to hold back the tears of honoring a man who has ensured that not only Xavier is on a national stage but that countless African-American men and women were educated under his leadership,” she said.
Francis also played a major role in shepherding civil rights advances locally. And to wrap it all up, he headed up the state’s rebuilding commission following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. For all these things, he’s been showered with accolades, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom bestowed by President George W. Bush.
This latest honor is perhaps the biggest, though, because years from now, children will gaze up at the street sign bearing Francis’ name, and ask about him. What a story they’ll hear.