Montgomery street renaming request tabled, sparks discussion

Montgomery street renaming request tabled, sparks discussion
Bernard Whitehurst Jr. (Courtesy: Whitehurst Family)
Bernard Whitehurst Jr. (Courtesy: Whitehurst Family)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - City leaders have tabled a vote to rename a Montgomery street after a man at the center of one of the city's most notorious police shooting.

The shooting death of Bernard Whitehurst Jr. nearly 40 years ago is considered a pivotal case in the history of Montgomery race relations.

On Tuesday night, the city council delayed their vote after hearing from concerned citizens. 

Whitehurst's children would like to see the street where their father lost his life, named in his honor.

They've set their sights on Holcombe Street where Bernard Whitehurst Jr. was shot and killed by a Montgomery police officer in 1975 after being mistaken for a robbery suspect. The cover-up and resignations that followed rocked the city. While a painful part of Montgomery's history, Whitehurst's family wants to see Holcombe Street changed to Whitehurst Street as a lasting tribute.

"Basically it means a lot to the family because he was killed here. There's a lot of pain and suffering that happened here on this street dealing with what happened to our father here. The reason why we wanted this street named after him is because it's just due. It's due to him in his honor. We feel like what happened to our father was a historical chapter in this city and we feel like this street should be named after him ,"his son, Stacy Whitehurst, said.

In 2012, the city formally apologized to the family. In 2013, a historical marker commemorating the tragedy was unveiled across from city hall. Now, Whitehurst's relatives want his name to added to the map of Montgomery.

"It's more than right that we have a street named after him to keep his name going in the city of Montgomery. Bernard Whitehurst Jr. Is a part of Montgomery, part of the history here. We're going to carry his name on and it would be a great honor if they would change the street to his name," said Bernard Whitehurst III. "He had four kids- two daughters and two sons- and he has grandkids that he never got a chance to see because he was taken away by the city."

To get the street name changed, the Whitehurst family wrote a formal letter to the city stating the reason for renaming it. They also got clearance from all public utilities companies and approval from a majority of residents on the street.

The city council has the final say on the name change.

Some council members say it does not evoke a positive image and some said they feel the city has done enough for the family.

But other council members did recognize that the family has met all of the city's requirements for a street name change.

Some residents also voiced opposition to the renaming at Tuesday night's city council meeting saying that it "doesn't signify anything positive" and "rehashes everything that happened back then," calling it a "dark past." They said there's also a lot of history on Holcombe Street and suggested a memorial be placed on the street instead of changing the name.

Bernard Whitehurst III said the name change represents a "new beginning" in the city.

The council pushed back their vote for two weeks in an effort for the Whitehurst family to meet with citizens who voiced their concerns to see if they can come to some kind of agreement.

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