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Albany officials play the name game

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Like the pine trees lining the winding road, I’ve got a name.

— Jim Croce

I understand Yaz Johnson’s efforts to have something — apparently anything — in the city named in honor of his father, Johnnie Johnson. I really do.

Johnnie Johnson worked with the city of Albany’s Public Works department during the 1960s and 1970s, a time when black employees were paid less than their white counterparts and had very few job opportunities available to them. He led an employee strike and eventually joined five others in suing the city, winning a landmark decision that abruptly changed Albany’s hiring and pay practices.

Current Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Herb Phipps, who worked with famed civil rights attorney C.B. King on that case, told me, “It was disgraceful that a government entity treated its workers this way. Fortunately, Johnnie Johnson and those other workers had the courage to stand up and put their jobs — such as they were — on the line. Other than two or three people at that time, the only black workers hired by the city were sanitation workers, and they couldn’t even drive the trucks.”

Certainly Johnson had an impact on the city, and his son is looking for some kind of lasting tribute to that impact. Not knowing enough of Johnnie Johnson’s history beyond his worker/civil rights efforts to weigh in on the merits of such an honor, I would caution Albany leaders to do their homework before sticking anyone’s name on some local edifice or landmark.

Surely they haven’t forgotten the Angelo Taylor Causeway or the Arthur Williams Microbusiness Enterprise Center.

Since naming is a hot topic in the local news, I thought it would be interesting to lead the effort to recognize some other local citizens who through their various actions have become name-worthy.

  • We could name the overpass bridge on the U.S. 19 Bypass for Shannon Flynn and Colin Bailey, two homeless men who took up residence under the structure for several weeks before The Herald noted the unsanitary condition on Slappey Boulevard below, one of the primary entryways into the city.

  • We should retitle the Albany Civic Center in honor of Timothy Mabe, who was named director of the facility one day and turned down the $85,000 position the next. What better way to recognize a facility that still sits vacant most days of the year?

  • Why not honor current School Board Chairman James Bush by naming the rotting shell of the old Heritage House for him. I can think of no better symbol of the way Bush and his cronies are disemboweling education in the city.

  • Let’s also get the ball rolling on renaming Ledo Road for current Albany City Commissioner Chris Pike. Then we could install a barrier down the middle of the highway and create jobs by hiring armed guards to keep Dougherty County citizens from sneaking over into Lee County to spend any of their money.

  • I can’t imagine anyone in the metro area would object to naming the infamous arch over the Oglethorpe Bridge for Morningside Elementary School Principal Gloria Baker. There’s not a better monument to the frivolous spending of other people’s money.

  • After narrowing down the many options, I settled on the delapidated and roofless former NAPA Auto Parts building on Pine Avenue as an appropriate structure to bear the name of former Downtown Manager Don Buie. Certainly a gutted building that is on the verge of ruin is a fitting tribute to the mess Buie left for city officials.

  • And finally, can anyone question efforts to name the new gas-to-energy facility at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany for Jimmie Baltas, the founder of Jimmie’s Hotdogs on South Jackson? Baltas’s culinary delights are responsible for enough “natural gas” to keep the Marine base facility running for a decade or so.

Email Metro editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.