By Justin Boron
Hoping to strike a balance in the parts of history memorialized in Clayton County, a group of residents have proposed renaming Tara Boulevard after the late Rosa Parks.
The north-south thoroughfare - like dozens of other businesses, subdivisions, and streets in Jonesboro - is named after Tara Plantation where Margaret Mitchell gave “Gone With the Wind” character Scarlett O'Hara her home. The imaginary place also has become the centerpiece for much of the city's and county's tourism and economic development efforts.
But like in other conflicts that have emerged following a major demographic shift in the county, politics and race have mixed into controversy.
Bob Hartley, the citizen and business group's African American leader, said subdivisions named after plantations and allusions to the Old South, while not necessarily offensive, deserve some re-consideration given the county's predominantly black population.
“Since this is a majority African-American county, you're going to have more people questioning that,” said Hartley, who also has announced his intent to run against Democrat Gail Buckner, who is white, in the state Legislature . “Let's find a balance.”
Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day didn't have an opinion on the change although logistically, she said it might be difficult to implement. She also said she didn't think changing the name would harm the city's and county's tourism efforts.
Despite the implications of the issue, Hartley stressed that he wasn't trying to stir up racial tension.
“I really don't want this to be a racial issue, but it is hard to keep race out of Clayton County issues,” he said. “Hopefully, this will unify.”
Hartley said he sent a letter to County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell and the county legislative delegation requesting the change.
In it he claims to be part of a growing group of residents and business owners pushing to honor Parks, who died in Detroit three weeks ago and is credited with catalyzing the civil rights movement. In 1955, she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala.
Although the commission could rename the U.S. highway that runs through the center of the county, the General Assembly would be able to make the change more permanent, Buckner said.
She said she supports memorializing Parks somehow. But she also said Hartley's approach is inappropriate and characterized him as someone anxious to get publicity.
“Bob Hartley enjoys the media,” she said. “That has been his approach the entire last year.”
Hartley also spearheaded “Silence the Violence” and a gun buy-back program after two Clayton County teens were shot dead in April.
“You don't destroy one part of history to create another,” Buckner said. “We need to find a way that totally honors her, not taking away another part of history.”
Sen. Valencia Seay, the chairwoman of the local legislative delegation, said she hasn't received Hartley's letter. Seay said she would like to pursue a fitting memorial for Parks but isn't sure yet what that will be.
Asked whether she thought Hartley's intentions were political, she said she couldn't speak to that. But she said the spotlight that his proposal has created “couldn't hurt - that's for sure.”
Several other media outlets contacted Hartley about the issue including, he said, “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
He said his intentions for this and any other of his community initiatives are sincere.