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Chapel Hill Leaders Approve Road Name Change

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — An old part of Chapel Hill will soon be going by a new name.

After months of talk, city leaders voted unanimously on Monday in favor of renaming Airport Road to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The new street signs will not go up until July 4, 2005 and will include a separate sign underneath that reads "Historic Airport Road."

It is one compromise in a road toward improving race relations.

Airport Road is arguably the busiest and most historic road in Chapel Hill. Changing its name has accelerated controversy in a town known for celebrating diversity.

"We have had a discussion about race in this community and that is a good thing," Mayor Kevin Foy said.

A citizen's committee felt it would be a good thing for race relations if Airport Road was renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

"It's 2004. There has not been anything significant that's been named after African Americans by Chapel Hill," said Rev. L. Gene Hatley of the NAACP.

Airport Road business owner Bruce Johnson said the name change will cost him and others hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"One of the big things is we've got to change the telephone ads, which are going to be about six months. Telephone ads are not cheap," Johnson said.

Some critics said the forced name change could hurt, rather than improve race relations. Activists do not see it that way.

"I don't think it will make it worse, I think it's just exposed what's already there," Hatley said.

The town council is also looking into funds or resources to help Airport Road residents and owners with transition issues and will also consider calling a racial justice task force to address race issues in Chapel Hill.

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