A New Orleans thoroughfare named for the former president of the Confederacy will be renamed next year to honor a local civil rights icon and longtime president of a historically Black university, the City Council decided Thursday.
Jefferson Davis Parkway will become Norman C. Francis Parkway in January. Francis was the first Black graduate of the law school at Loyola University of New Orleans. The street being named for him runs by Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically Black university that was founded by Catholic nuns. Francis served as Xavier's president from 1968 until 2015.
The vote to rename the street was 7-0, with council members, meeting online, expressing their happiness that the honor was being bestowed on Francis, 89, while he is alive to see it.
Members also made clear they will be looking at other streets and memorials that honor Confederates.
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“We have a duty collectively, not just in silos, to look at other streets that we know are problematic,” council member Joseph Giarrusso III said.
In a statement, the university's current President Reynold Verret said Francis “always knew that education is the pathway to social justice."
“His unwavering commitment and courage in the face of adversity spanned 50 plus years at Xavier and taught us all many lessons on how we must serve and lead our community,” he said.
Thursday's vote came more than three years after workers removed statues honoring Davis and Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard from prominent places on the city landscape. That was the culmination of a nearly two-year legal battle waged by people arguing that the statues honored Southern heritage.
Then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu drew blistering criticism from supporters of Confederate memorials and iconography when he led that effort, which gained steam after the murder of nine Black worshipers at a South Carolina church. The killer, Dylann Roof, was an avowed racist who brandished Confederate battle flags in photos.
Outrage over this year's police custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis again recharged efforts to remove Confederate icons in New Orleans and nationwide. Months after protests in New Orleans and other cities, there was little resistance to changing the street name. There was one public comment read opposing the move during Thursday's meeting.