WHO TO HONOR AND HOW IS DELICATE ISSUE FOR OFFICIALS
A motion by Ward A rep Nathaniel Miller — for Council to establish a committee to honor community leaders in government, business, civic, and other areas of Blackstone life — died last week for lack of a second.
The discussion came during Council’s May 16th meeting.
The Town is currently working on a memorial bench, at a cost of approximately $2,000, to honor the service of the late former Councilman John Neal, who was lead plaintiff in the 1986 Voting Rights Suit ( Neal et al v. Blackstone) that forced Blackstone to establish its ward system. The Town was approached last year by Mr. Neal’s family, and Council’s Buildings & Properties Committee is planning to make a recommendation soon to the full Council.
At Mayor Billy Coleburn’s request, Town Council last year named the Amelia Avenue overpass the “Barbara J. Thompson Bridge” after former Council President Barbara Thompson resigned and moved to Georgia after 34 years of service (1987-2021). Mrs. Thompson served in elected office longer than any other Black official in Nottoway County and was the first Black President of Council.
Miller last week said late Councilwoman Constance Wynn, who served from 1987-2010, also deserves recognition as well as the late Wadsworth Hawkes, who in the early 1980s became the first Black elected to Council back when all voting was at large.
The mayor said those leaders and others are worthy of being honored, but he urged Council — if it wishes to move forward — to first establish criteria.
Coleburn said honoring Ms. Thompson and Mr. Neal are “no-brainers” because Mr. Neal was the lead plaintiff in a historic lawsuit and that Ms. Thompson — in addition to the number of years of service — lobbied repeatedly over the years to have the bridge in her ward rebuilt.
Ward D rep Carolyn Williams, who succeeded Ms. Thompson on Council, agreed with the Mayor and suggested caution. “I think we may need to let the families come to us, versus us asking them. Let them come to us with the request, then we can look at it on a case-by-case basis instead of having a committee.”
Councilman Lonnie Morgan agreed, saying Council already has a full plate and “a lot of committees.”
The Mayor said Council could find itself honoring those who wouldn’t want such fanfare, as well as “having” to honor some who are nominated for fear of upsetting families.
Coleburn said Blackstone has volunteers, experts, and leaders in many areas of community life, including — for example — youth recreation. “What’s Council going to say when a family comes forward and says, ‘Uncle Jethro coached tee-ball for 16 years,’ and they want a plaque at the ballfield?”
Coleburn said the tendency of elected officials, generally, is to want to please constituents, and it could be hard to say ‘No’ in dubious cases.
Council President Eric Nash said Council shouldn’t confine selections to elected officials, saying honorees should include “business, community, civic leaders — the whole gamut.”
Nash said the Buildings & Properties Committee is considering allowing purchase of memorial bricks. “There are people in the community much more worthy than we (elected officials) are.”
Miller said that once the Town honors anyone, it’s natural for residents to wonder why others aren’t considered.
While Miller’s motion died for lack of a second, the Mayor noted that Council remains open to all suggestions. “But let those making the request make their case with facts. Remember, everybody is loved by somebody. And there are a lot of folks in this town who weren’t high profile, but who did a lot of good things.”
But Coleburn said the Town formally establishing a committee and picking and choosing a variety of honorees on its own could lead the Town down a “slippery slope.”
At Mayor Coleburn’s request, Town Council at the 2020 Arts & Crafts Festival surprised Bobby Daniels and formally named the lane in front of Schwartz Tavern “Bobby Daniels Lane” in honor of his many contributions to the community. Coleburn this week said that decision was “another no-brainer” and enjoyed “widespread community support.” Daniels operated Bevell’s Hardware for more than 40 years, and his model train displays brought thousands to Blackstone every holiday season. He was also a driving force in the Arts & Crafts Festival’s antique tractor and engine display and gave freely of his time.
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