HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Hampton city officials on Monday officially dedicated a bridge in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and three slaves who escaped to Fort Monroe in search of freedom.
10 On Your Side has been covering this story since 2016. A committee decided to rename a bridge at end of Mercury Boulevard — which connects Phoebus to Fort Monroe — after King.
Council later voted unanimously on the renaming.
A group started a petition trying to change the name, saying they wanted the bridge to be named after someone within the history of Fort Monroe.
Officials say the new name does that.
After many discussions, the bridge is now named the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Bridge in honor of Frank Baker, Shepherd Mallory and James Townsend.
Baker, Mallory and Townsend are credited with inspiring an exodus of fugitive slaves to Fort Monroe during the Civil War, after they fled their masters and eventually found asylum at the Union fort.
“What we were able to do is to tie in the fact that again it was a fight for freedom. They were the ones who initially through faith and hope sought freedom at Fort Monroe and Dr. King through faith, hope and love sought to bring about rights of human dignity and equal rights for all Americans,” said Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck.
“To be able to have a bridge named after a bridge builder, Martin Luther King and also to honor the three contraband slaves that swam across the water to flee from slavery is excellent,” said Hampton NAACP President Gaylene Kanoyton.
Dozens of people braved the bitter cold to witness history.
“It’s bringing Hampton together,” said Raymond Judd.
Judd explained it was important for him to be there with his young daughter. “I wanted her to be a part of what’s going on in the world today,” he said.
The event was a history lesson his 9-year-old can connect to her class.
“I just wanted to see if I could learn anything else because we are studying the arrival of Africans,” Rayghen Judd said.
According to the city, the measure to rename the bridge was approved in 2016. Formal markers were delayed until all legal agreements were approved by the King family.