As a designated "free-speech zone," the Civic Center Plaza is an apt namesake of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell said Monday.
Four of her colleagues -- John Barton, Peter Drekmeier, Yoriko Kishimoto and Judy Kleinberg -- agreed, forming a majority that voted to dedicate the plaza in honor of the Kings in January. Councilman Bern Beecham was absent.
"This is not an issue that's all about political correctness," Cordell said. "This is about this city making a statement" supporting civil rights and free speech.
"To me the Kings represent something that is very, very important to Palo Alto," said Drekmeier, who, along with Cordell, proposed naming something in the city after the Kings last January.
"We are now a very tolerant community. … It hasn't always been that way and I don't want us to forget it," Drekmeier said, recalling previous limitations on non-whites in Palo Alto. There were deed restrictions limiting sales of property to non-whites until the 1940s and a secretive Ku Klux Klan chapter reportedly existed in the 1920s and into the 1930s.
But council members Dena Mossar and Jack Morton and Vice Mayor Larry Klein voiced misgivings about naming the public plaza after the Kings.
The Kings were outstanding Americans worthy of recognition, all three agreed. But Coretta's achievements did not match up to her husband's, Klein said.
Mossar and Morton said they thought exemplary locals, such as Juana Briones, should be considered if the plaza were to be renamed. Kleinberg said Tuesday she had originally proposed honoring Briones.
Morton and Mossar also pointed out that the couple's full names create an unwieldy title for the plaza.
The Kings are linked to Palo Alto because Stanford University hosts the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, which houses King's papers. The one person the King trusted with his papers, history Professor Clayborne Carson, is a Palo Alto resident, Cordell said.
She said Coretta's accomplishments are particularly laudable because they occurred in an era when men had more advantages and spokespersons.
In the Jan. 16 memo that kicked off the effort to honor the Kings, Cordell and Drekmeier wrote that Coretta "founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and lobbied for a national holiday in honor of Dr. King, which was granted in 1983."
Married for 15 years, the Kings organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott, directed the March on Washington in 1963 and led the movement that resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Drekmeier and Cordell wrote.
Initially, they proposed renaming a street such as Oregon Expressway after the Kings. But after learning of numerous logistical challenges involved in renaming streets, the council and its Policy and Services Committee switched its focus to a park, plaza or other space in the city.
In June, the committee recommended dedicating the unnamed Civic Center Plaza rather than Lytton Plaza, the small parkette at University Avenue and Emerson Street that was the scene of numerous demonstrations in the late 1960s and early 1970s -- some of which turned violent.
The Palo Alto Historical Association's Landmarks and Streets Committee also considered the proposal and "saw no objection" to renaming Lytton or the Civic Center Plaza.
The city plans to purchase a high-quality $10,000 plaque before the January dedication, Assistant to the City Manager Kelly Morariu wrote in a report. (Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.)