Black supervisor, residents push to rename Chatham bridge after civil rights chief | Information

Members of the predominantly African American community north of the Chatham city limits say the bridge, which was officially named after former Chatham Mayor Roy P. Byrd, in October, should instead be named after a local African American civil rights leader.

At the December meeting of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors, Chatham resident Willie Fitzgerald told the board that he and other African American citizens felt it would be impervious to the community to name this particular bridge after Byrd.

“The main focus of the problem … is the lack of empathy in bringing this gentleman into the black community,” Fitzgerald later said in an interview.

The Virginia General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, voted in its 2020 session to rename the bridge the Roy P. Byrd Memorial Bridge.

In addition to serving as mayor of Chatham, Byrd served on the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors and the Commonwealth Transportation Board.

Local leaders pushing for the nomination, including Chairman of the Board of Directors, Bob Warren, and current Chatham Mayor Will Pace, brought many improvements to the streets around Chatham to Byrd, including the creation of the tightsqueeze traffic light and the bridge, after which he was named.

A unanimously adopted resolution of the Supervisory Board from 2020 supported the legislation of the General Assembly, but according to Dr. Charles Miller, representative of the Banister District and the only African American board member, found his support for the resolution a mistake.

Miller told the board that he had read a news report about efforts to rename the bridge and believed the renamed bridge was the Dry Bridge in U.S. 29, not the renamed North Chatham Exit Bridge.

According to Miller, the decision to rename this bridge Chatham in place of another bridge demonstrated “insensitivity” to the racial makeup of that part of Chatham that has historically been predominantly African American.

This story also led Miller to the idea of ​​renaming the bridge after Banks.

“The bank’s name is and still is all over this town,” Miller said.

Known in Pittsylvania County as one of the most prominent civil rights activists in the area, Banks was heavily involved in both the NAACP and the county’s Democratic Party.

In the 1960s, Miller said, Banks campaigned for African American school teachers in the county to be paid equal to their white counterparts.

Miller stated that it’s not about honoring Byrd, but how it’s done.

“Nobody is trying to denigrate anything related to Roy Byrd, that’s not the problem,” Miller said. “The problem is, given the color of the skin and the history of the community, it would be more appropriate to name this bridge after Mr. Banks.”

Miller and Fitzgerald suggest renaming another bridge in Chatham after Byrd, saying they have reached out to local lawmakers to bring the issue to the General Assembly.

“Personally, I think the South Main Bridge, which is down here in Chatham, would be a more suitable place for a Roy Byrd mark that the white community can use to identify and honor him,” said Fitzgerald.

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