Renaming for Brazier raises questions about expense, choice

Staff Writer

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to rename Stony Island Avenue after a prominent South Side pastor does not sit well with Hyde Park residents on that street.

Emanuel last week proposed renaming Stony Island Avenue from 56th Street to 130th Street after Dr. Arthur M. Brazier, a civic leader and prominent South Side minister.

Brazier was a founder of The Woodlawn Organization and led a congregation of nearly 20,000 members at Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester Ave., when he handed over leadership in 2008. Brazier died in 2010.

“Bishop Brazier was a spiritual and community leader on Chicago’s South Side, fighting against crime and poverty, while advocating for better housing and schools,” Emanuel said in a press release. “By renaming Stony Island Avenue in his memory, we are honoring a man who influenced generations of pastors and parishioners to spiritual worship with community activism.”

But Carrie Hedges, who has lived in Vista Homes, 5844 S. Stony Island Ave., since 1999, said changing the street name would be a burden to residents and a financial inconvenience to the city.

“I don’t care who they’re changing the name to but the residents who live on Stony Island were not consulted at all,” Hedges said. “Residents have to change legal forms. Our drivers licenses say Stony Island, whether we have titles or co-op shares [they] have to be changed. I can’t imagine the inconvenience that is putting on residents.”

Stony Island Avenue was originally named for the geological outcropping of Stony Island, which is now roughly located between 91st and 94th streets.

Millions of years ago, when Lake Michigan’s water was 50 to 80 feet higher than it is today, Stony Island formed as a limestone-based outcropping.

Hedges said she first heard about the change on the evening news and was appalled that the city hadn’t bothered to contact Stony Island residents beforehand.

“This is sort of like knocking down the Fieldhouse at Whittier School in the middle of the night, or wrecking Meigs Field in the middle of the night,” Hedges said. “It’s saying ‘We want to do this and we don’t care who gets in the way.’”

Hedges also said the city’s taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill to change all the street signs, including exit signs along the Kennedy Expressway.

“I think there are just other ways to honor this man without causing the taxpayers of the entire city money and without inconveniencing all the other residents,” Hedges said.

Stony Island Avenue resident Alice Dan said she suspects the proposal to rename the street may be political on Emanuel’s part, and that it would be easier for her to support the renaming if she knew more about Brazier’s accomplishments.

“I’ve heard he was a civil rights figure, he worked with Martin Luther King and that he had a church on Stony but that’s not enough for me,” Dan said. “If this person is someone who is widely known in the Woodlawn and South Shore communities, and is a huge figure to them, that would make a difference to me.”

Stony Island Avenue resident Sylvia Vatuk said she would support an honorary street name after Brazier but renaming the whole, major thoroughfare was “much too much.”
Patricia Spencer, another resident at Vista Homes, said she didn’t like the idea of having a religious leader’s name on her personal documents.

“I’m not a religious person and I resent having to put that on my business cards or letterheads or anything like that,” Spencer said. “I’m not sure what the man did. He’s supposed to have done something important but I’m sure there are other people who have done more important things.”

Spencer said former Ald. Leon Despres lived in Vista Homes and the block has an honorary sign naming it after him. While she doesn’t think the street needs to be renamed at all, she would rather see it renamed after someone whose work was noteworthy on a larger scale.

Hyde Park resident Jim Mann supports the move. Mann worked at the South East Chicago Commission from 1974 through 1980 and during that time worked with Brazier.
“I think the recognition for what Rev. Brazier did for Woodlawn and the greater South Side and what he did for Hyde Park, [renaming a street] is certainly a fitting recognition,” Mann said. “Brazier led the redevelopment of Woodlawn into a remarkably stable community.”

In 1989 a proposal to change the name of Stony Island Avenue to honor Elijah Muhammad, a Black Muslim leader who was later replaced in his mosque by Louis Farrakhan, failed after two of the proposal sponsors did not arrive to a crucial committee hearing.

At the time the Herald reported that then-Ald. Patrick Levar (45th), chairman of the Committee on Streets and Alleys in 1989, deferred the issue saying that changing the designation for a major thoroughfare “‘shouldn’t be taken lightly.’ He also noted that the cost of new street signs, and the individual expenses of businesses and residences on Stony Island Avenue, who must change their deeds, property designations, business licenses and home addresses could be expensive.”