HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – In response to controversy surrounding the naming of a bridge in Hampton, city council on Wednesday presented what several members called a “compromise.”
In a 6-1 vote, council members opted to re-name the bridge that connects to Fort Monroe as “The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Bridge in Honor of Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory, and James Townsend.”
The bridge had never been named prior to last month, when council unanimously voted to call the structure the “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Bridge.” That name was recommended by a committee that formed roughly six years ago for the purpose of finding a way to honor the late civil rights leader.
But several community members were unhappy with that initial vote, arguing that their voices were not heard.
An online petition formed, stating that the bridge should be named for the former army post’s rich history. To date, more than 1,300 have signed.
On Wednesday night, council members told the packed room that they had carefully reviewed petitions on both sides.
“We decided not to frame the issue in terms of ‘either/or’… we decided ‘and,'” Vice Mayor Linda Curtis announced.
Curtis said that the new name simultaneously honors the committee’s recommendation, while appeasing requests to honor Fort Monroe’s history; Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory, and James Townsend were three slaves who escaped to Fort Monroe during the Civil War.
All but Councilman Donnie Tuck voted in favor of the change Wednesday.
The vote was taken prior to public comment, which Tuck spoke out against.
Some stood up and left, expressing anger that community members weren’t able to speak before the vote was taken. Several still took the podium afterwards.
“We do not believe this was fair and just,” one woman said.
“We just never knew that there was an option for this bridge to be named and Ft. Monroe, having such a rich military history, I feel like it’s kind of a dishonor not to honor something individually from the history of Ft. Monroe,” another community member said.
Others took the podium and praised the compromise.
Before the city council meeting, civil rights activists gathered on the steps of city hall, voicing support for council.
“Dr. King represents love, bringing together people and service to humanity,” said Andrew Shannon, with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “So that’s why we’re all coming together today.”