Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, against the advice of her own commission, is stubbornly pushing to change the name of Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport to "Hartsfield-Jackson" International, to honor Maynard Jackson, the city's first black mayor who died June 23.
It's a terrible idea, and that's not meant to put down Jackson. No one argues he shouldn't be honored in some way - but not by watering down the historical contribution of William B. Hartsfield, the city's longest-serving mayor. It's simply wrong to pay tribute to one mayor by minimizing the significance of another - and that's what Mayor Franklin is urging her city council to do with the name change.
How quickly we forget. It was Hartsfield's vision, that had its genesis when he was an alderman in the 1920s, to make Atlanta the hub of air travel for the Southeastern United States. An international airport could have been built in Birmingham, Ala., or some other major Southern city, but it was built in Georgia because of Hartsfield's energy and leadership.
When he left the mayor's office in 1961, Hartsfield proudly presided over a trendsetting new terminal, the largest in the country at that time. But even before then his efforts had made Atlanta's airport the busiest in the nation, as it still is today. When he died, it took the city council just one week to name the airport after him.
Jackson also oversaw a major airport expansion during his tenure, and surely he deserves recognition for that and other mayoral achievements. This is why the current mayor named an advisory panel to recommend ways to pay tribute to Jackson and another great Atlanta mayor, civil rights reformer Ivan Allen Jr., who died recently at age 92.
The commission stunned Franklin by rejecting her notion of changing the airport's name, instead recommending that Jackson's name be attached to a new $982 million international terminal. Mayor Franklin may not like it, but it's good advice.
Adding Jackson's name to the airport is like cutting Hartsfield's significance in half. "It is disrespectful," said Walt Hartsfield, a distant cousin of the late mayor speaking on behalf of the family. He asks: What's to stop another name change in 10 years, perhaps removing both names? Nothing, if Franklin gets her way.
There are many ways to pay tribute to Jackson without renaming the airport for him. That is shortsighted and unnecessary.
As founder and father of Atlanta aviation, it's as fitting today as it was a week after he died to name the airport for Hartsfield alone. We hope the city council agrees when it decides the issue in late October.
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