Besides creating a little extra work for the good people at Mapquest, renaming a street in North Portland after civil rights heroine Rosa Parks might seem relatively innocuous – and the last place in town to stage a protest.
But at a ceremony today where City Commissioner Dan Saltzman unveiled new street signs officially changing N. Portland Blvd.'s name to “Rosa Parks Way,” a small handful of folks came out in the rain to protest against what they call a token gesture to mark Ms. Parks' role in the civil rights movement. (For those not up on their history — and shame on you if you aren't — Parks sparked the pivotal Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama when she refused in 1955 to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger.)
“We're very much in support of commemorating Rosa Parks this way, but we could have done much, much more,” said Brian Borrello, a board member of the Piedmont Neighborhood Association. “Just renaming a street was the path of least resistance. Portland Blvd. is a small street. Ironically, there isn't even a bus stop on this corner. And who really loved Portland Blvd. as a name anyways?”
“The neighborhood community wanted something grander, and instead, we were put in the back of the bus.”
Other suggestions included changing the name of a thoroughfare that has more traffic, like NE Lombard St – or more significantly changing the name of the downtown transit center to “Rosa Parks Transit Mall.” The thought behind that idea: Since she vaulted into history by her bravery on a bus, why not draw the local link by naming Portland's most visible bus and transportation hub after her?
“We looked at other places and other streets, but we didn't want to choose a location that was already named after a historical figure,” Saltzman said. Turns out, Portland's transit mall is already named “The Bill Roberts Transit Mall,” in honor of the former Tri-Met board member. But most Portlanders probably knew that already. Uh, right.
Saltzman says Rosa Parks Way will now “symbolically” intersect with Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in NE Portland, at a crossroads that should serve as a reminder to Portlanders “that all human beings deserve to be treated equally.”