Fort Lauderdale Commission Votes to Extend Sistrunk Boulevard Name

Just a month or so back, Fort Lauderdale's black community was good and mad about what's in a name. The moniker in question was "Sistrunk Boulevard," the strip that runs through the city's historically black neighborhood. The debate pitted white yuppies in a neighboring gentrifying area against an older African American set that can still remember the city's history of segregation.

This week, the issue was been resolved - settled, in fact, with so little fanfare or heat that it makes you wonder if the naming controversy was just a release valve for a lot of the other racial tension that's been brewing in Fort Lauderdale for some time.

Specifically, it all came down to "Sistrunk" and the associations you pull from that word. For Fort Lauderdale's African American community, the word evokes Dr. James Sistrunk, a community pillar who opened Broward's first black hospital.

But for the residents in nearly Flagler Village, the name evoked the area's more recent history - a time when drug pushers and prostitutes flooded the boulevard. After a $15 million redevelopment grant was used to spruce up both areas, signage initially went up east of Andrews Avenue calling the whole area "Sistrunk." Flagler Village didn't like that (its homeowners association later voted 22-1 against the name change), and the African American community west of Andrews didn't like that Flagler didn't like it.

You can't downplay the high emotions involved in this issue. A few months back, we sat in on a community meeting held by Commissioner Bobby DuBose which directly tackled the Sistrunk naming controversy. The room was packed with over 50 people. Tension was running high. Audience member rose to give their two cents, and many saw Flagler Village's hesitation on the name a direct extension of the city's racist past.

"It's really disappointing that we have this discussion," a well-dressed woman in her 50s told the crowd. "This is a farce. It is 2013 and we are still with this nonsense."

But now, the emotions have cooled down. This week, city commissioners voted unanimously to extend the Sistrunk name all the way down to Federal Highway. Even Flagler Village seems to have change their tune, voting 22-2 in favor of the new naming at their last meeting.

So is everyone happy? Seems like it.

Or at least on the surface.

That disappointment aired in the meeting - there are plenty of other issues facing Fort Lauderdale's African American community upon which those types of feelings can settle (we can think of one). The naming controversy collected a lot feeling into one place, but there are other issues that deserve a public discussion of similar magnitude.

Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.

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