For Sonny Carson Street-naming
By Mary Alice Miller
On Wednesday, May 9, the City Council was scheduled to vote on a street-naming bill that conspicuously eliminated the name of Sonny Abubadika Carson from consideration.
Community pressure (and perhaps fear of setting an uncomfortable precedent) led the council to lay over the vote until May 30. This, Councilman Al Vann declared at a City Hall press conference, is a “victory.”
The battle is not over. Vann announced he will offer a floor amendment to add Sonny Carson’s name to the street-naming bill prior to that vote scheduled for May 30.
The Parks and Recreation Committee of the NYC Council had decided in a 3 to 1 vote, with Councilwoman Letitia James abstaining, to keep Carson’s name off the bill.
The next rebuff took place in the courtroom of NYS Supreme Court Judge Leland DeGrasse. Attorney Roger Wareham, representing the petitioners, argued that the council’s variance from traditional protocol with regard to Sonny Carson is inherently racist. Wareham reminded the court of the 19th century Supreme Court decision that stated “a black man has no rights that a white is bound to respect.”
Judge DeGrasse’s decision issued the next day essentially said the court had no jurisdiction over the council. Councilman Barron’s response was that the judiciary is required to protect the public from abuses of the legislative branch of government.
All this activity led to the press conference on the steps of City Hall.
A variety of politicians and representatives of many community groups attended. Speaker after speaker recounted personal knowledge of Carson. We were reminded that Carson helped form Medgar Evers College. After Carson’s mother was killed by a crack addict, he formed the Black Men’s Movement Against Crack. Carson raised a politically aware son, Lumumba, who was Professor X of X-Clan. The ultimate irony is that Carson helped form the Committee to Honor Black Heroes, a group instrumental in the renaming of several streets in Bed-Stuy, including Malcolm X Blvd., Marcus Garvey Blvd., and Harriett Ross Tubman Ave.
No one said Carson was perfect, but all acknowledged his political development and commitment to his community. Rev. Herbert Daughtry said it best: “If people are going to be excluded because of controversy, who could stand?”
The issue underlying the council’s attempt to usurp community wishes goes beyond naming a street after Carson. When asked what this process says about other Community Board recommendations in other council districts, Barron said, “They come for Vann tonight; they will come for you in the morning.” Vann added, “Other council members are wary. They need to be careful how they vote. They see that if they want something controversial for their districts, they may not get it.”
Barron added, “We need to make sure that a black man that stands for his community is not punished. We need to watch and make sure that Bed-Stuy and East New York/ Brownsville continue to get their fair share of NYC’s $53 billion budget.”
Comments in the crowd:
His legacy? He never vacillated in the face of adversity of on difficult issues. He encouraged Black men to be responsible.
Everyone here today is over 40 years old. All have met Sonny Carson in one way or another.
It is easy for him to pull you into what is right for black people. He is not an aloof leader; he spoke directly to his people.
I talk in the present because I am a spiritual man. I never think of people in the past tense; their work and energy are always present, as Sonny’s is today.
Black people will continue to remember him (into the future) before they remember the mayors of this city.
The spirit of Sonny is here today.
We voted for it. We want to retain the right to make decisions for the community at the community level. The genie is out of the box.
In 1991, he was the one who stopped the digging to remove the bones from what is now the African Burial Ground.
He had a group of young people to sit down in front of the bulldozing equipment so they would not continue.
He didn’t care who didn’t like him, he didn’t care what people said about him.
He was a community person, determined, when he made up his mind to do something, he did it.