By Billy Corriher
The city of Atlanta honored former Mayor Maynard Jackson Tuesday night by officially renaming Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport after the late civil rights pioneer.
Valerie Jackson, wife of the late mayor, held back tears as she told the audience that the ceremony, held on her husband's birthday, was very emotional for her.
"That was a little more touching than I thought it would be," she said.
Jackson said her husband, who died of a heart attack last year, would be honored to have his name associated with the airport, which saw expansion and the addition of an international terminal during his tenure.
Jackson family members and Atlanta officials recalled Jackson's contribution to the civil rights movement and to ensuring equality for all Atlanta residents.
June Dobbs Butts, Jackson's aunt, said having her nephew commemorated at the airport will remind passengers of his struggles to help minorities, including granting more contracts for airport construction to minorities.
"He fought to achieve a balance, to get a fair opportunity," she said.
Jackson's expansion of the airport built on the progress made during the tenure of the airport's other namesake, former Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield, "The Father of the Atlanta Airport."
During his time as mayor, the longest in Atlanta history, Hartsfield saw the airport go from a dirt field to a hub of regional transportation.
"These two men saw an Atlanta that no one else, or very few, could see," Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said.
Cathy Woolard, president of the Atlanta City Council, said she couldn't imagine how Atlanta would have developed without Jackson's and Hartsfield's vision of the airport.
"William Hartsfield planted the seed and Maynard Jackson grew the flower," she said.
Today, the airport counts itself as the busiest passenger airport in the world, with 79 million passengers in 2003.
Ben DeCosta, the airport's aviation general manager, said all the growth the airport is seeing now, with the construction of the fifth runway and new international terminal, is a way of carrying on the legacy of Hartsfield and Jackson. The new fifth runway is on track for completion in May 2006, and the new international terminal is scheduled to be finished by October 2006.
"(Jackson's) vision brought the airport to world-class status and we're keeping it there," he said. "It's one more step along that path that Maynard envisioned."