After three attempts in the past 19 months, black church leaders in Belton last week ended their efforts to have a street named in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Their decision to curtail the campaign came after property owners living along the streets to be renamed voted to support the renaming — but not in large enough numbers to put the issue before the City Council for approval.
Of the 37 property owners polled, 15 voted in favor of the name change and 13 voted against — which equates to 54 percent for and 46 percent against. But a policy approved by the council last summer mandates the support of 70 percent of property owners in order to authorize a street renaming.
For many in Belton’s black community, the latest defeat was no doubt a bitter pill, especially since the policy was revised this year to reflect that only property owners who vote would be counted. The original policy counted each nonvote as a “no.”
Still, the chairman of the group that first asked the city to rename the street in January 2012 criticized the city’s renaming policy, calling the 70 percent threshold unrealistic.
That’s an understandable reaction, given the effort the group put into the initiative.
But it’s also important to look at the policy from a pragmatic standpoint.
First of all, it mustn’t be assumed that the property owners who voted against the change are racially insensitive or ignorant of Dr. King’s legacy.
Renaming a street has consequences for those who live along it, and they must be taken into consideration. For example, property owners must change their mailing labels and personalized stationery, notify creditors and change their driver’s licenses. Business owners must update websites, remake business cards and revise legal documents.
In addition, changing the name of an established street can cause confusion among local residents, especially when it comes to locating a business.
Finally, some people may oppose a name change just because they like the street’s name as it is — and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Obviously, a 70 percent threshold for support is a difficult bar to meet — as it should be. Renaming a street affects everyone who owns property or lives there, not just a simple majority of them.
But there are other ways to honor Dr. King’s legacy, which is certainly something worthy of strong consideration.
First, the council could propose renaming a shorter stretch of road, a possibility the church leaders have favored. The portion suggested ends at the Harris Community Center, a former segregated schoolhouse, making the symbolism of the MLK renaming poignant, indeed.
Secondly, the council could consider renaming a street as an alternative description, such as in Harker Heights, where a portion of FM 2410 is jointly known as Knight’s Way. Property owners would be free to use either street name in an address.
Third, the council could work with developers to name a new street after Dr. King, establishing the name in advance.
Finally, the city should look into constructing a monument to King near the Harris Community Center or in one of the city’s parks.
A permanent memorial, complete with a plaque explaining his important place in our nation’s history would do more to honor Dr. King’s memory than would a simple street sign.
In the end, it’s important that Dr. King’s legacy be recognized and honored in communities throughout our nation — and Belton is no exception.
But it’s also important that residents have a say in the decisions of their local governments, especially when it affects them personally, as in the renaming of a street.
Hopefully, Belton residents will find a solution that is acceptable to all parties involved.
After all, people of different races and backgrounds working together is what Dr. King would have wanted.