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Stony Island renaming plan looks like sad political ploy: Mitchell

Updated: October 16, 2013 6:43AM

Just about everyone on the South Side has a Stony Island story.

But if Mayor Rahm Emanuel gets his way, those stories will soon give way to ones about “Bishop Brazier Avenue.”

This week, the full City Council is expected to pass a measure that would change the iconic thoroughfare’s name to that of the late Bishop Arthur Brazier, the longtime pastor of the Apostolic Church of God.

Brazier left his footprints in the redevelopment of the Woodlawn community, and played key roles in the fight for equality in education.

Still, this is Stony Island we are talking about.

“Business owners are split on this issue,” said Eric Jones, executive director of the Southeast Chicago Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a definite buzz — and it’s not all positive. There’s no doubt that Brazier brought a lot to the Woodlawn community, but Stony Island?” he asked.

“This is just an expense that is unneeded.”

If African-American aldermen had a burning desire to rename Stony Island, I can think of a lot of black icons that changed Chicago and the nation who deserve the honor.

What about Mayor Harold Washington Way? Or Mahalia Jackson Avenue? Or Elijah Muhammad Drive? Or Dr. Margaret Burroughs Street? Or Addie and Claude Wyatt Way?

The Wyatts built Vernon Park Church of God on Stony Island. And the Honorable Elijah Muhammad established the Nation of Islam’s “Mosque Maryam” on the famed street.

Obviously, Brazier was a towering figure in the Woodlawn area, but his church isn’t even located on Stony Island.

Like South Parkway, which was renamed “King Drive” to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Stony Island also is an important street in African-American history.

“This is where Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry came and established themselves,” noted Andrew Davis, whose independent film “Stony Island” premiered at the Gene Siskel Film Center in 2012.

Frankly, if the city renames Stony Island to honor Brazier, what is it prepared to do to honor other iconic black Chicagoans whose careers impacted the city and the nation?

Additionally, renaming an arterial street — especially one that runs from Hyde Park to 130th Street — will complicate mail deliveries, and force scores of struggling businesses to bear unexpected expenses.

Vicki White is the co-owner of 200 Pharmacy, 9133 S. Stony Island. The family-owned business has been in operation for 40 years.

“Bishop Brazier was an upstanding pastor. He was very faith-based, which I am excited about, and he had a heart for the community,” White said. “But this is going to impact us somewhat. Will all of our business cards and the literature that we send out have to be changed?”

That’s the biggest problem with renaming Stony Island. No one bothered to notify the people who will be most impacted by the change. It is as if we’re talking about sticking up an honorary street sign.

“[Byron] Brazier brought it to me, along with some of the people who live in our ward, and asked if I would be OK with it,” Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) told me.

“Bishop Brazier was a great faith-based leader in terms of spirituality and was just a great human being,” Harris said. “As with any kind of decision, you are not going to get 100 percent support.”

No alderman would dare challenge Brazier’s worthiness, and I predict this proposal will sail through City Council as if it were a resolution for an honorary street sign.

Still, I remember that all hell broke loose in 2006 when then Ald. Madeline Haithcock (2nd) tried to get one city block named for Fred Hampton pursuant to his son’s request.

Hampton, the charismatic leader of the Chicago Black Panthers, was killed in an infamous police raid in 1969. To black people, Hampton was a martyr in the struggle for equality. Thousands lined up to view his body and to attend his funeral.

The Fraternal Order of Police protested the honorary street sign designation, and successfully lobbied white aldermen to vote against it.

I don’t expect Byron Brazier, who was on Emanuel’s transition team, will run into any City Council opposition in an attempt to get Stony Island renamed for his father.

Still, coming at a time when a lot of black people have soured on the mayor, what is supposed to be a tribute just looks like cheap political posturing.

Unfortunately, the renaming of Stony Island could end up as one of those stories we would be too ashamed to tell.


Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST

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