NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – There is an ongoing debate in the chambers of the New York City Council over the co-naming of four blocks of a Brooklyn street after activist leader, Abubadika “Sonny” Carson, who died in 2002.
Brooklyn Councilman Al Vann (D) introduced a resolution to co-name four blocks of Gates Avenue after the controversial leader, when the local Community Board approved of the measure. According to Councilman Vann, because the council only deals with street namings twice a year, the resolution for Mr. Carson was lumped into an omnibus bill, which had 53 names for streets throughout the five boroughs.
However, Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Man.) had Mr. Carson’s name removed from the omnibus bill, asking that it be considered at a different time and for the Parks and Recreation Committee to back her proposal, which it did. The committee is chaired by Councilwoman Helen Foster of the Bronx, but she was out-voted by three White members of the committee and an abstention by the other Black committee member, Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James (D).
Councilwoman Quinn’s reasoning for opposing Mr. Carson’s name being placed on Gates Avenue is due to her not believing that Mr. Carson’s “history of being anti-White” merits having a street named after him.
However, according to Atiim Ferguson, who served as Mr. Carson’s first lieutenant, “Sonny wasn’t anti-White, he was just profoundly pro-Black,” he told The Final Call. Mr. Carson gained national attention when a movie was made about his life, entitled “The Education of Sonny Carson.”
Mr. Ferguson also noted that Mr. Carson has done something in death that he tried tirelessly to do while alive–unite Blacks in New York City.
Critics of the actions by the City Council say this is an “unprecedented” act, and according to Councilman Vann, the council normally rubber-stamps resolutions from the Community Boards.
The December 12th Movement, an organization Mr. Carson helped to form, in a statement suggested that the actions of the council members opposed to the co-naming were “fundamentally racist and an attempt to deny the Black community equal protection under the law on the one hand and our right to community control,” and said that the controversy over Mr. Carson shows New York City as two cities–one Black, the other White.
Recently, the December 12th Movement went to the State Supreme Court in Manhattan to seek a stay prohibiting the council from removing the name from the bill. However, on May 8, Judge Leland DeGrasse dismissed the complaint, stating that the decision to remove Mr. Carson’s name “clearly involves the exercise of discretion by a legislative body.”
Activists say they do not plan to allow the City Council, which is predominately Black, Latino and Asian, to override their wishes and the will of the community. “We will not stand for two cities, two rules of law and two City Councils which violate our fundamental Human Rights,” noted Paradis Gray, Millions More Movement Minister of Arts and Sciences.
“Sonny Carson is a hero in our community and no matter what he is, we have a right, as a people, to name our streets after those whom we consider heroes,” Councilman and former Black Panther, Charles Barron (D-Bklyn.) said.
Rev. Herbert Daughtry, the activist pastor of Brooklyn’s House of the Lord Pentacostal Church, told the New York Sun that the debate represented “a clash of values and perceptions.”
“In communities across the country, there is a feeling that Whites want to dictate our lifestyle, our interests, and our values,” he told the newspaper.
When The Final Call asked Rev. Daughtry if he thought the Carson controversy illustrated a racial divide in New York City, his response was that he is certain it does.
“I think that it under scores that. Here are a few White folks who never met ‘Sonny’–just heard about him–saying you can’t name a street after him, while you have all these streets named after slave-holding presidents and racist entertainers,” Rev. Daughtry said. Activists have been angered by Speaker Quinn’s proposal last year to have a midtown block named after entertainer Al Jolson, who often appeared on stage in Blackface.
“The fact that Whites can sanitize the past of people such as Al Jolson and not forgive Sonny Carson for statements that he had made, let’s us know that this is racism,” Minister Kevin Muhammad of Muhammad’s Mosque No. 7 in Harlem told The Final Call, saying that because this is the City Council, this becomes government sponsored racism.
In the name of the aim and mission of the Millions More Movement, Min. Muhammad stated that Blacks should “turn their anger and energy about the debate over the street naming and use it for the good of the Millions More Movement, and improve the overall conditions of Black people in New York City.
“The good thing about issues such as this is that we now can see our open enemies for who they are. This should wake us up,” Min. Muhammad said.