Prince George's politicians and some county residents are playing their own name game these days, dueling over the proper way to honor slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
The town of Seat Pleasant is all for renaming the George Palmer Highway to honor King. But the town of Glenarden, located just a few miles north on the highway, disagrees.
The mayors of both towns think much of King's accomplishments and the need to memorialize him, but neither can agree that the road they share should be renamed King Highway.
Last week, the Prince George's County Council decided in a 5-to-4 vote that Palmer Highway should not be renamed, in part because the road is already named for someone.
But the bill's sponsor in the council, Floyd E. Wilson, has vowed to take the cause to the state, which also has the power to rename the highway.
State Sen. Decatur W. Trotter, who first advanced the idea of a switch at the request of the county chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said after the council vote that he has scheduled a Dec. 18 meeting with state Transportation Secretary William K. Hellmann to discuss possible state action on the road.
"The thing is that George Palmer runs through the black community, through three senatorial districts and has both black and white in its populace," he said.
Businesses along the six-mile divided highway had complained to elected officials that a name change would cost them money for new stationery and business cards. The county Chamber of Commerce opposed the measure.
Wilson, who is from Glenarden and sponsored the bill, was irate. "That's just a bunch of," he said and then hesitated. "Well, you know what it is."
"Whenever you change anything in a community it is going to cause some people some concern," he said.
Wilson's arguments failed to sway a majority of the council, which opted to keep the name of a former Prince George's park and planning commissioner, banker and founder of Seat Pleasant who died in 1941, shortly before the highway was built.
Granted, most council members admitted to having a certain gap in their Prince George's civic history.
"I don't know who George Palmer was," council member Frank P. Casula reasoned. "But whoever he was, he must have been a very important person to have a major highway named after him."
Casula voted against the name change.
Joining him were Chairman William B. Amonett, Anthony Cicoria, James M. Herl and Sue V. Mills. Voting in favor were Jo Ann T. Bell, Richard J. Castaldi, Hilda R. Pemberton and Wilson.
"Everybody agrees that it is a good thing to do," said Pemberton. "But nobody agrees how it should be done."
Glenarden Mayor James Fletcher said, "Glenarden's feeling is it really is not enough to name a highway that goes through a black town after Martin Luther King. It does nothing to elevate his name, to keep it up there. It would do more to rename Rte. 202 Landover Road or Central Avenue."
Seat Pleasant Mayor Frank J. Blackwell, however, said that the name change would be fitting as well as good for business.
"We felt inasmuch especially how in Seat Pleasant we have a drive on now to revitalize and rehabilitate the business corridor and to get some new businesses in older, vacant shops along the highway," he said. The new name, he said, could generate new interest.
The council voted instead last week to send a letter to the Park and Planning Commission asking that it find another site in the county for a King memorial.
"They're going to go find some area of the county where ain't nobody living, ain't nothing built yet and name it after Martin Luther King," grumbled Wilson.