June 13, 2013

Portland pondering new names for streets

The names of A, C and D streets should reflect the African-American history of their neighborhood, some suggest.

By KAREN ANTONACCI Staff Writer

The St. John Valley neighborhood, a quiet area tucked in between Maine Medical Center and the old Union Station in the city’s West End, might soon have new names for three cross streets – A, C and D.  

A Street, which spans two blocks, and C and D streets, each one block long, run between St. John and Valley streets.

The three have about 15 older homes and used to be part of Portland’s historically African-American neighborhood, according to Bob Greene, author of “Maine Roots,” a book on the geneaology of several Maine African-American families.

The neighborhood was predominantly African-American early in the 1900s, and was home to many Union Station employees.

Because of that history, some in the community are calling for A, C and D streets to be renamed for prominent African-American families who lived there.

City Councilor David Marshall will host a neighborhood meeting at 7 p.m. June 18 at 106 Gilman St. to discuss the possibility of renaming the streets.

Marshall said the idea came about after Portland Daily Sun columnist Cliff Gallant wrote a story in February requesting the change, saying there are no streets in Portland named after African Americans.   

Gallant said the idea came after a conversation with Len Cummings, president of the Abyssinian Meeting House, which was first established in 1828 by the African-American community.

“I felt the need to have a broader conversation about (changing the street names) and have a buy-in from the neighborhood,” Marshall said. “At the meeting we’re going to gauge interest in residents and have a discussion about the way we want to recognize the contributions African Americans made to the city of Portland and the St. John Valley neighborhood.”

Several residents of the neighborhood said they wouldn’t mind the name changes. 

Ricky Roberts has managed Pizza Villa near A Street for 26 years.

He used to live between A and C streets and said the new names might give the streets some character.

C Street resident and local store clerk Giselle Santiago, however, is against the idea and plans to let the city know. 

“I think it’s stupid, really, and I don’t understand it,” she said. “I don’t want to change my checkbook, my ID, and I get a lot of mail from out of state and would have to go back and remember who I have to tell to change my address.”

Gallant said that while he understands the change might be a hardship for some residents, he thinks the benefits would be worth it.

“I’m sure the post office has a system to automatically forward mail to the changed address, but I do recognize that it’s inconvenient,” he said. “One can only hope the greater good can be served, and the people, they would be living on a street with some real history behind it.”

Gallant wrote in his column that Gerald Talbot, the first African American elected to the Maine House of Representatives, suggested three names for the streets: Cummings, Hill and Richardson. Edward Cummings lived for many years across from Union Station and was captain of the Red Caps, the team of porters at the train station. James “Brud” Hill was a prominent resident in the St. John Valley neighborhood. Brothers Harold and Clifford “Kippy” Richardson were the first African-American trustee of the Portland Water District and City Council member, respectively.   

Portland already has streets named Cummings, Hill and Richardson, after other people, Gallant said, adding that one solution would be to name the streets Cummings, Hill and Richardson lanes.

Residents who can’t attend the June 18 meeting may email Mike Murray at msm@portlandmaine .gov  , call 756-8288 or write Murray at 389 Congress Street, Portland ME 04102.

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