Macon-Bibb County commissioners may be ready to backtrack on renaming Haywood Road in honor of the late Rev. Dr. Marshell Stenson Jr.
After a 45-minute public hearing Tuesday evening, the commission’s Facilities & Engineering Committee Chairman Al Tillman said that when the name change was proposed in May, commissioners thought residents of the street were all in favor of renaming it for the late pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church. Stenson led the church, at 1180 Haywood Road, for 44 years until his death at age 77 in December.
On May 20, commissioners voted 7-0, with only Commissioner Scotty Shepherd absent, to rename the street.
Commissioners passed a rule months ago requiring that for public property to be named for someone, that person must have been dead for at least a year. In this case, Tillman said, commissioners suspended their own rule “because we heard so many good things” about Stenson.
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But when government workers went out to change the street signs, they found residents hadn’t been consulted and that many were against the idea, Tillman said.
“Do not change our street name” signs were posted Tuesday in front of a quarter of the street’s 40 or so houses.
“I would like for it to stay Haywood Road because of the changes that would have to be done with banking, doctors’ offices, schools and what have you,” Janice Ricks, a resident of the road for nearly three years, said before the hearing. “Rev. Stenson was a very good man. He was a good minister, but we would rather that the name of the street stay the same.”
About 40 people attended the 6 p.m. hearing, with Tillman, Commissioner Larry Schlesinger, Commissioner Elaine Lucas and Senior Assistant County Attorney Crystal Jones there to listen. Lucas sponsored the resolution to rename the street.
Tillman said the name change wasn’t properly advertised, and he acknowledged the government’s error.
Lucas said she thinks everyone respected “this giant” Stenson.
“I was overjoyed to receive a request from several very prominent people in the community who wanted to commemorate him by renaming the street in his honor,” she said. Many streets have been renamed for people over the years, but in this case the proper procedure wasn’t followed, Lucas said.
Tillman asked supporters, then opponents, to speak. First up was Hamp Swain, a St. Luke Baptist Church member.
“I guess I initiated this effort by making a proposal at one of our meetings by making the proposal that we rename the street after our deceased pastor,” Swain said. He said he hoped the renaming would go forward so future generations would ask who Stenson was and what he did.
Stenson’s widow, Mary, and several others followed, saying he deserved the honor to commemorate his decades of work for the community.
An equal number of opponents then spoke, with several saying that Stenson’s work for the larger community hadn’t done much for the street itself.
“Rev. Stenson was a fine fellow, I agree with that,” said Alfred Lewis, who has lived on the corner of Haywood and Kitchens roads for 43 years. But those are the area’s two major streets, and it would damage and confuse the neighborhood to change a name that has stood for decades, he said.
Along with several others, Lewis said the church should rename part of its own property, such as the fellowship hall, for Stenson if members want to honor him.
Opponents presented commissioners with a petition, bearing 25 names, against the renaming.
Jones said the name-change proposal will go back to committee.
“Basically the process is starting over from the very beginning,” she said.
When it comes up again, he thinks commissioners will have second thoughts, Tillman said after the hearing.
Photographer Woody Marshall contributed to this report. To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.