Name change planned for Jefferson Davis Parkway in favor of former longtime Xavier University President

Updated: Jun. 17, 2020 at 8:35 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - For almost five decades, one man sat at the helm of one of the foremost historically black colleges in America. Those who know Dr. Norman C. Francis can hardly say enough about him.

“His commitment to education has been that, and that it’s not only transformative for his life but the life of every other student,” Dr. Reynold Verret said.

Xavier University, however, sits on a roadway named after a confederate leader. And current university president, Dr. Reynold Verret says changing Jefferson Davis Parkway is about more than a name, it is about Dr. Francis’ legacy that both their students and the city should embody.

“His life is a manifestation of the progress of justice and equality in the last half-century, Dr. Francis comes from humble beginnings because of access to education and focus on education was the passion of his life,” Verret said.

Verret remembers for years petitioning the change, including to former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu. Now, Councilmember Helena Moreno taking up that charge, with resounding support including from one of the United Nations’ messengers of peace, Stevie Wonder.

“I think people continue what we started a long time ago which is those monuments are offensive and don’t reflect our history,” Landrieu said.

“This is about promoting what we want to be in a community, one that promotes equality and one that supports all people who are living in the city,” Moreno said.

Moreno says the entire city council, as well as mayors past and present support the name change. She says four other state senators wrote letters as well, a contrast to Senator Bill Cassidy’s take on the measure. One political analyst says the “changing history” argument though, should not apply here.

“I will say though there is a slippery slope to where we go into a cancel culture where we make ourselves feel better by canceling out those which we do not want to think of. If that had been done throughout our history as a nation, we would not have had progress in civil rights which we now have,” Cassidy said.

“The confederate names and confederate statues came after long after reconstruction, it was basically a historical re-write an attempt to rewrite the southern history… this is a sign of the city council doing their best to be responsive to the will of the people,” said Dr. Robert Collins of Dillard University.

If Norman C. Francis parkway should eventually lead to the door of Xavier University, Verret says it will be a good day.

“It’s almost like passing the mantle to every student who comes after him saying it now it’s your turn,” Verret said.

The council also plans to vote on starting a commission that will oversee identifying other streets and city names to be changed, and what to change those too.

Moreno said it will not be an overnight process. It will likely be a couple of months until Jefferson Davis is changed even after the council presents the first reading tomorrow.

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