Black university calls for Jeff Davis Parkway to be renamed
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The nation’s only historically black Catholic university is bordered by a highway named for the Confederacy’s president — and it wants that changed.
Two New Orleans City Council members said they support a request from trustees of Xavier University of Louisiana and local activists to rename Jefferson Davis Parkway for retired Xavier president Norman Francis.
Helena Moreno and Jason Williams said in a news release Thursday that they’ll make such a proposal at the council meeting June 18.
“As policymakers, we must ensure that this is a city where people feel uplifted and welcome, which means we have to take a close look at the message our city is sending and be intentional in making necessary changes,” Moreno said. She said the name should have been changed much earlier.
“Black Lives Matter,” Moreno said. “And we cannot mean those words if we continue to sustain landmarks to white supremacy on our city’s streets.”
Francis, 89, retired in 2014 after 47 years as president of Xavier. President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006. In 2019, Notre Dame University awarded him the Laetare Medal, which it describes as the nation’s most prestigious honor for U.S. Catholics.
During his tenure, Xavier became the nation’s leading producer of African American undergraduates who complete medical school. Xavier also ranks first nationally in the number of black students earning undergraduate degrees in four areas: biology and life sciences, chemistry, physics and pharmacy.
“The renaming of Jeff Davis is significant in its positioning as the southern border of the university,” the university said in a news release Thursday.
An online petition notes that Francis served in the Army, housed Freedom Riders in New Orleans, and led work to create Liberty Bank, the first African American owned bank in Louisiana, and also helped bring the NFL Saints to New Orleans.
Xavier said its request, first made in January 2018, was resubmitted Wednesday to honor Francis’ work in higher education and its role in creating a just and humane society.
“Dr. Francis understood more than most that education is the pathway to social justice,” university President Reynold Verret said in a news release.
Williams said, “Dr. Francis has been a friend, a mentor, an inspiration, and a hero to many New Orleanians.”
He said symbols are important: “We must not state tacitly or otherwise that we are OK with the stench of the Confederacy staying alive in our welcoming city.”