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Let the spirit of King guide road debate.

Byline: Bob Welch / The Register-Guard

When I see the bickering about the renaming of Centennial Boulevard in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., I'm reminded of a family feuding over the will of a deceased loved one.

People get so wrapped up in the details of the debate - their side winning - that they forget the one whose legacy they're supposedly trying to uphold. And forget that how we live reflects how much, or little, we really value that person.

Shouldn't the deed - in this case the naming of something for King - be decided with a certain spirit of cooperation, compromise and urgency that befits the man?

True, as Eugene debates go, this one won't make the Top 10 Nasty List; the worst move came on the opening kickoff when Eugene raised the issue without consulting Springfield, home to a good portion of Centennial itself.

But the letters to the editor have leaned decidedly to the here's-why-it's-a-bad-idea side. And you wonder if this is destined to become another one of those seemingly endless Eugene debates. (Coming soon to an opinion page near you: `Son of the Skinner Butte Cross.')

The Eugene City Council plans to make a call on the matter at its June 9 meeting. Let's hope it does. And that it says yes to some sort of worthy honor for King.

Is Centennial the perfect solution? No. Since the issue was raised four months ago, I've liked the idea of renaming Belt Line Road, which is more prominent, won't require many address changes and won't sacrifice a name that was selected to honor the state's first 100 years.

Naming the new federal courthouse for a man who was all about justice also seems a worthy choice. And, frankly, I could live with the renaming of the Ferry Street Bridge. But I'd happily give up my favorites if it meant avoiding a long, drawn-out debate that, in the end, will grate against the very spirit King espoused.

The most honorable voices I've heard in this issue have come from Bruce Chase and Ed Coleman. A longtime resident on Centennial, Chase showed up at a Eugene Planning Commission meeting in March prepared to argue against the renaming, but changed his mind after hearing testimony from Coleman, a University of Oregon professor emeritus and stalwart of the African-American community.

"It has some historical importance in my life," Chase said, "but tonight it appears pretty small and selfish."

He saw beyond himself to the larger picture - a good lesson for us all.

Eugene's black community favors the renaming of Centennial. "Let us show our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that we have nothing to fear, to make this honorable change," Coleman says.

In so doing, we'll validate King's belief that what makes people who they are is "the content of their character."

I made a similar point at the end of Thursday's column regarding the Christian-based Young Life organization taking over the Wasco County digs once home to the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh: While some may believe Young Life's presence might represent a case of one bunch of "spiritual wackos" taking over for another, the proof is in the pudding.

I didn't write, nor do I believe, what some angry readers believe I implied: that Christians are wackos. I wrote that time revealed what the Rajneeshees were all about and that time will reveal what Young Life is all about.

The Rajneeshees, in going so far as to plot the murder of government officials, proved to be a chilling contradiction to a leader who told his followers to "seek neither to manipulate nor dominate others."

Now, Young Life - in how it deals with Wasco County neighbors and public officials, and in how its young people impact the world - has the opportunity to uphold Jesus' do-unto-others exhortation.

Nothing wacky about that.

Bob Welch can be reached at 338-2354 or at bwelch@guardnet.com.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Words:647
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