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City council votes to rename street for Xavier President Emeritus Norman C. Francis

Updated: Aug. 20, 2020 at 7:24 PM CDT
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Dr. Norman C. Francis served as president of Xavier University for nearly 50 years.
Dr. Norman C. Francis served as president of Xavier University for nearly 50 years.(Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The city council voted unanimously to rename Jefferson Davis Parkway for Xavier University of Louisiana’s venerable President Emeritus Dr. Norman C. Francis. And Francis appreciates the recognition he is receiving through the street renaming.

The official name of the street will be Norman C. Francis Parkway.

“I am most grateful that the city of New Orleans has named a street in my honor, particularly one that borders Xavier University, an institution that I have called home for more than a half-century. And I am extremely appreciative of everyone who supported this effort, most importantly, Mayor Latoya Cantrell, the City Council, and those who wrote letters, editorials, and signed petitions in support. St. Katharine Drexel and the Sister of the Blessed Sacrament trusted me to serve Xavier and make it an integral part of this community. I share this acknowledgment with them and my Xavier colleagues. I am truly honored and humbled by this recognition,” said Dr. Francis.

Tim Francis said he and his sisters and brothers welcome what the city is doing for their father.

“My father is thrilled and humbled and my family is ecstatic, all my siblings, said Tim Francis. “It’s unbelievable, unbelievable to see this and particularly to see this happen in his lifetime.”

For 47 years, Dr. Francis was at the helm of the historically black university.

“There’s something about adrenalin, there’s something about knowing when it’s time to make a decision and a time to leave,” said the elder Francis when he announced his 2015 retirement.

He is credited with guiding Xavier’s tremendous growth both in enrollment and physical scale over the years.

“I have been with some of the greatest people in the world here at this university,” Francis told FOX 8 when he marked his 40th anniversary as Xavier’s leader.

Francis graduated from Xavier in 1952 and then earned his Juris Doctorate from Loyola University. In 1968, Francis became Xavier’s president.

And now Francis’ highly respected name will go on a street that runs alongside the campus, a street that now bears the name of a defeated leader of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.

“My father’s never looked for honors, he’s always just done the Lord’s work and got up every day and worked really hard and so when people acknowledge him particularly with an honor like this he thinks about all of the people who helped him along the way,” Tim Francis said.

Dr. C. Reynold Verret succeeded Francis as Xavier’s president.

“At an important level it is honoring Xavier because Norman Francis is so much a part of the university, students, president and on, but also I think it’s also an important honor for the city of New Orleans because Norman Francis was not only a servant to Xavier, he served the city of New Orleans,” said Verret.

And Verret believes the renaming of the street for Francis will also enhance Xavier’s legacy.

“It’s an important message to the world because it speaks of the longest-serving president in the U.S. Higher Ed, a major adviser to the commissions on education and on religion in this country,” he said.

Verret said the request to rename the street was originally submitted in 2018 with the support of the entire Xavier community and Board of Trustees and the university leadership was compelled to resubmit the request this year in honor of Francis’ work in the field of higher education and the role it plays in creating a just and humane society.

Verret said Francis, “taught us all many lessons on how we must serve and lead our community.”

Before retiring, Francis oversaw the rebuilding of Xavier following the catastrophic flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He also chaired the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the commission which oversaw the state’s rebuilding efforts following the storm.

Dr. Norman Francis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006 by President George W....
Dr. Norman Francis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006 by President George W. Bush.(Source: WVUE)

In 2006, Francis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

Council members said it is time to rid from public view symbols that celebrate racial inequality like street names that honor segregationists.

“Dr. Francis has shown great love for this city and country. He served in the United States Army, housed freedom riders during their stops in New Orleans,” said Council Vice President Helena Moreno.

Jason Williams, president of the council said Francis’ contributions to the world deserve honor and appreciation.

“He is not just a figure of this city, he is a statesman of this country and of this world,” said Williams.

Councilman Jay Banks said renaming a street in Francis’ honor is a fitting start for the work the city must do to make everyone feel included regardless of their race.

“We’re taking the steps necessary to make sure that, that kind of stuff goes away forever,” Banks said.

Tim Francis is delighted his father’s name will be hoisted high near the campus he served and loved.

“It’s an honor that’s well-deserved and I’m really proud,” he said.

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