Race
6:00 am
Mon October 21, 2013

Fort Lauderdale Neighborhood Has Change Of Heart In Sistrunk Naming Debate

During segregation, most Fort Lauderdale blacks lived west of the railroad tracks.
Credit Broward County African-American Research Library and Cultural Center

Last month, we brought you the story of a Fort Lauderdale community divided over a street name honoring one of the city's African-American heroes.  Since then, one of the neighborhoods in question has done a complete about-face that could end years of emotional debate. 

But at least one city official has questions about what sparked the turn-around.

At issue is whether the name "Sistrunk Boulevard" should appear along with Northeast Sixth Street on signs running through Flagler Village, a Fort Lauderdale section quickly gentrifying into a predominantly white enclave.

The boulevard is named for Dr. James Sistrunk, who helped establish the city's first hospital for blacks in the late 1930's.

For years, the city's Community Redevelopment Agency has maintained that extending the Sistrunk name east to Federal Highway would bring more economic development to the predominantly black corridor west of Andrews Avenue.

Flagler Village residents have resisted the co-naming, over concerns that the name "Sistrunk" evokes images of crime, drug use and urban blight.

But last week, the neighborhood's civic association overwhelmingly voted in favor of the change. The motion of support was made by developer Alan Hooper.

"I believe that two neighborhoods fighting with one another is not productive. And I don't think it's something that a civic leader like Dr. Sistrunk would want," said Hooper.

But Commissioner Dean Trantalis, who represents Flagler Village, feels residents were strong-armed into the approval by developers who fear the loss of CRA funding. He also has concerns about racial tensions exposed by the debate.

"It has become an emotional issue for the African-American community," said Trantalis.  "To the point where anyone who refuses to agree with the re-naming is almost considered to be a racist. And I find it unfortunate that it has been taken to that level."

The support of Flagler Village means that the Sistrunk Boulevard co-naming issue could be settled as early as November 5th, during the next meeting of the Fort Lauderdale City Commission.