Push to extend ‘Doc’ Sistrunk’s name and legacy raises tensions in Fort Lauderdale

By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org 

Dr. James F. "Doc" Sistrunk

Dr. James F. “Doc” Sistrunk

To honor Dr. James F. “Doc” Sistrunk’s legacy, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission may have to defy Flagler Village Civic Association opposition to extend the boulevard named for the black physician.

The proposal is to extend the name Sistrunk Boulevard east of Andrews Avenue through the Flagler Village neighborhood to Federal Highway.

Sistrunk Boulevard currently runs west from Andrews Avenue through City Commission District Three. The road, however, is named NE 6 Street east of Andrews Avenue, which is part of City Commission District Two.

Sistrunk Boulevard is four lanes wide until it meets Andrews Avenue, where the road narrows to two lanes as it continues east.

Economics and politics are the reasons given for opposing the Sistrunk Boulevard extension. Race is an unstated tension.

The Sistrunk district, just west of Flagler Village, is the largely black, historically segregated area of the city. Flagler Village is gentrifying into a predominantly white residential neighborhood.

Asked if racial bias is driving opposition to the Sistrunk Boulevard extension, City Commissioner Dean Trantalis – who represents Flagler Village – said, “I don’t know what prejudices are in the hearts of people.”

The Northwest Progresso-Flagler Heights Community Redevelopment Advisory Board has voted twice – in 2009 and 2012 – to rename that part of NE 6 Street as Sistrunk Boulevard to encourage economic traffic into the Sistrunk neighborhood.

TO HONOR A BLACK PIONEER

Commissioner Bobby B. DuBose, who represents the predominately African-American District three, said in an interview that many of his constituents want Sistrunk Boulevard extended to honor the black pioneer’s memory.

Dr. Sistrunk, a historical hero to the black community, moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1922. In 1938, when hospitals were racially segregated, he helped established the city’s first medical facility for blacks, Provident Hospital. He died in 1966.

During a July 2 City Commission conference meeting, Mayor John “Jack” Seiler and three of the four commissioners indicated support for a compromise. They suggested using both names along its six-block stretch through Flagler Village. Street signs would read Sistrunk Boulevard underneath NE 6 Street.

Trantalis rejects that idea.

“The big problem that people have is not that they don’t like Dr. Sistrunk and the heritage he brings to the community,” Trantalis told the commission. “(The name Sistrunk Boulevard is associated) with urban decay and crime…The people who live in Flagler Village don’t want that association to be passed into Flagler Village.”

But just a few blocks west of Flagler Village, Sistrunk Boulevard has undergone a recent and dramatic transformation aimed at stimulating private investment in the area. The city, along with its local community redevelopment agency, spent $15 million on the installation of new decorative tile, wider sidewalks, streetlights, landscaping, bus shelters, on-street parking and lane reductions.

DuBose sees the area differently from Trantalis. “We have two different perceptions,” he told the commission. “I (do not) want to belabor this for another year…This is important to the city…At this point I’m ready to move…just vote on it.”

Mayor Seiler lamented that Sistrunk Boulevard retains a negative connotation to some. He called Dr. Sistrunk “a legendary individual who delivered 6,000 (babies) and had a huge impact on…those who did not have access to health care.”

Dr. Sistrunk’s legendary status has not swayed Charlie King, a local activist who is thinking about running against Seiler in the next mayoral race.

“The name Sistrunk Boulevard makes people immediately start thinking of crime, drugs and prostitution,” King said in an interview.

PREJUDICE NOT THE ISSUE?

King is a realtor who owns two townhomes in Flagler Village, and lives further east in Fort Lauderdale’s more upscale Victoria Park neighborhood.  He said prejudice is not the issue.

“It is economics,” he said, adding that renaming NE 6 Street would slow down the gentrification of Flagler Village. “The mayor is overstepping his bounds by forcing people to change the (street) name against their will.”

Street signs bearing the Sistrunk Boulevard name were installed in Flagler Village in 2012. They were  removed following complaints to City Hall. Photo: Matthew Pici, Flagler Village Civic Association

Street signs bearing the Sistrunk Boulevard name were installed in Flagler Village in 2012. They were removed following complaints to City Hall. Photo: Matthew Pici, Flagler Village Civic Association

Trantalis, who attended the last Flagler Village Civic Association meeting, said opposition to renaming the street is widespread. “Nobody in the room supported the renaming,” he said.

Matthew Pici, president of the Flagler Village Civic Association, said in an interview that his association complained to city hall in 2012 when new street signs were erected renaming NE 6 Street as Sistrunk Boulevard. The new signs subsequently were removed.

City spokesman Chaz Adams said a contractor prematurely installed the Sistrunk Boulevard signs in Flagler Village. Once discovered, the contractor removed them. The city commission had not approved the name change, Adams added.

The Flagler Village Civic Association passed a motion in 2012 requesting that any proposal to change street names in its neighborhood be submitted to the association for a vote before city approval.

The association may vote on the co-naming proposal at its Sept. 18 meeting. Commissioners DuBose and Trantalis both are expected to attend the meeting to be held at 6:30 pm at 408 NE 6 St.

“Commissioner DuBose may very well make his case (at the next Flagler Village Civic Association meeting),” Trantalis said in an interview. “I don’t want to predetermine the outcome of the meeting.”

Trantalis said the co-naming of the street in Flagler Village is not a “foregone conclusion,” even though the rest of the commission appears to support it. But if the commission votes to do it without Flagler Village support, it would set “a very bad precedent.”

To Dubose, the renaming proposal is a citywide issue. “We’re not taking, we’re adding, in co-naming, in co-branding,” he said.

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5 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Lauderdale Resident says:

    Charlie King is a joke. He stands in front of the commission trying to berate them on issues and has no idea what he is talking about. He just makes himself look like a fool. Gadfly Christine Timmons makes more sense than him.
    Lets remember this shining quote of his from Tim Smith’s blog: “Sistrunk Boulevard is probably the scariest street in Broward County “, King said, and added “I always thought Confederate Highway instead of Federal Highway had a nice ring to it”.
    This guy is an A#1 jackass.

  2. Not a Lauderdale Resident says:

    I guess the “Lauderdale Resident” is on the “City’s Payroll” one way or another !!

    At least Mr. King is concerned about the City … and he does know a thing or two from some of his comments I have seen … of which I have first hand knowledge. He is a direct person…. nothing wrong with that !!!

  3. Victoria's Secret says:

    The Sistrunk name should go from the western boundary of the city, all the way to Victtoria Park Road. Anything less would be a slap in the face to a great man. The same argument was made back when MLK was extended south of Broward Blvd and the world did not end when that was done. Come on Fort Lauderdale, do the right thing.

  4. A Neighbor says:

    The Flagler Village Associate does not want the name change. The name should stay as is. Why would this even be pursued? And why now?

    Charlie King is protecting his investments, and that is a good thing. Good for Charlie for speaking up. He watches out for our city.

  5. Enough Said ! says:

    Dr Sistrunk is already being honored in the community where he made a difference in. We dont need to rename Fort Lauderdale for him. BTW ever notice how short the part of the street is that is named in honor of Wayne Huizenga is ?

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