Richmond rejects proposal to rename street for Ashe
RICHMOND, Va. (USATODAY.com) — Richmond's City Council rejected a proposal to rename a street for tennis great Arthur Ashe, a city native who was barred from playing on segregated tennis courts when he was a child.
The proposal drew opposition from many residents of the street known only as the Boulevard, a 2.5-mile thoroughfare lined with churches, a synagogue, apartments, museums, businesses, sports complexes and about 1,200 Edwardian-era homes, many on the National Register of Historic Places.
Seven years ago, the city split along racial lines over the large statue of Ashe erected on Monument Avenue, where a line of statues of Confederate heroes also stand.
Councilman Walter Kenney Sr. sought the name change, arguing that it would help Richmond embrace its diversity and reconcile its past.
"Richmond had a unique opportunity to change the perception of race relations," Kenney said after Monday's 7-2 vote. "This was a bridge for that."
Ashe died of AIDS-related pneumonia in February 1993, 10 months after revealing he had contracted the disease from a blood transfusion during heart bypass surgery in the 1980s.
About 50 people attended the meeting to argue against the change. Only one showed up to speak in support of the proposal.
Crawley Waverly, who grew up in Ashe's neighborhood, questioned whether the city should spend money to change a street name in the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel, which knocked out power to 95% of the city and contaminated the water supply for four days. Some estimates by city agencies put the cost of the name change at about $1 million.
"Arthur Ashe Jr. would have preferred to spend the money on education, if he was living," Waverly said.