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Dr. Norman C. Francis: Changing street name marks progress, promises more

"Changing the street name is a symbolic way of saying 'Get ready. We are as good as we have been, but we'll be better in the future.'"

NEW ORLEANS — A monument to the short-lived Confederacy's only president, Jefferson Davis, was removed from its pedestal in New Orleans in 2017. More than three and a half years later, that pedestal sat at the corner of Jefferson Davis Parkway and Canal Street.

That change on the first day of 2021.

"Jefferson Davis Parkway is officially going to be renamed the Norman C. Francis Parkway," Tidwell said in a December press conference. "That will take place on Jan. 1."

In June, Xavier University's current president, Reynold Verret, resubmitted a 2018 request to the city to rename the parkway after Norman C. Francis, the first non-clergy president of the university and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Dr. Francis understood more than most that education is the pathway to social justice,” Verret said in June. “His unwavering commitment and courage in the face of adversity spanned 50 plus years at Xavier and taught us all many lessons on how we must serve and lead our community. It is an honor for me to submit this request on behalf of all Xavierites and New Orleanians to whom he remains an example.”

In August, Francis said he was honored by the renaming efforts, thanking New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the City Council for being a part of it.

"I am most grateful that the city of New Orleans has named a street in my honor, particularly one that borders Xavier University, an institution that  I have called home for more than a half century," Francis said. "St. Katharine Drexel and Sister of the Blessed Sacrament trusted me to serve Xavier and make it an integral part of the community. I share this acknowledgment with them and my Xavier colleagues. I am truly honored by this recognition."

The only historically Black Catholic university in the country had Jefferson Davis Parkway, a road named after a man who fought for Southern States' to be able to continue to enslave Black people, on its southern border.

Among others, Stevie Wonder supported the renaming efforts, and he had a letter written to City Councilwoman Helena Moreno.

"We must honor and cherish those who inspire and unite us, as compared to those who dishonored us and did not treat all people as created equal," The letter from Stevie Wonder said.

A release from the university said Norman C. Francis Parkway, formerly Jefferson Davis Parkway, is the primary gateway for students, their parents, and the rest of Xavier's community as they come to campus.

A page on Xavier's website details the history of its past presidents, including Francis.

"He has received 40 honorary degrees from other universities, and at least 20 major awards in recognition of his leadership in higher education as well as his unselfish service to New Orleans and to the nation," the pages said of Francis. "He has served in an advisory role to eight U.S. presidential administrations – not only on education issues but civil rights as well."

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