Last week, elected officials, top MTA brass and community members celebrated the renaming of the President Street and Franklin Avenue stations to also include “Medgar Evers College.” Founded in 1970 and named after the famed civil rights activist from Mississippi, the college is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The name change was initiated after state lawmakers passed legislation last June, which was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in December. The MTA then spent several months updating nearly 2,500 electronic strip maps that appear on train cars, onboard announcements for 1,245 train cars and 3,174 in-car subway maps.
The signage throughout the two stations on pillars, exits and entrances, were also updated.
At the celebration, New York City Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg noted that the agency does not rename stations very often.
“Frankly, events like today should be unprecedented and historic in nature,” she said. “You don’t just go around renaming subway stations everyday or it loses what’s so important about it.
“You’ve got to have a great reason, and honoring Medgar Evers College and Medgar Evers, the man, are two genuinely great reasons,” Feinberg added. “They truly merit that sort of historic treatment.”
Evers was a World War II veteran who served in the Battle of Normandy. After his return, he became the NAACP’s field secretary in Mississippi, organizing against segregation in schools, beaches, parks and other public facilities. He also led voter registration drives.
In 1963, at just 37 years old, he was assassinated by a white supremacist in his driveway. His killer, Byron De La Beckwith, was finally convicted of murder in 1994.
State Senator Zellnor Myrie noted that before Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner or George Floyd, there was Medgar Evers, who was part of the movement in the 50s and 60s fighting for the right to vote.
“This naming today isn’t just letters on a train, we are paying homage to the Civil Rights Movement,” he said. “Every time someone walks up those steps or is coming home late from work or going to the deli to grab a sandwich, they will be reminded that our ancestors came before us.”
Myrie also called Medgar Evers College, which is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system, a “centerpiece” in the central Brooklyn community that residents have relied on for years.
“If you’ve grown up in this neighborhood like I have, you either went to Medgar Evers, you know somebody that went to Medgar Evers or you went to a program that Medgar Evers sponsored,” he added. “It is a rock in our community.”
Assemblywoman Diana Richardson is an alumna of Medgar Evers College, where she graduated with a degree in public administration. She said the name changes were a “long time coming” for the central Brooklyn community.
“We endeavored together collectively over the last three decades, wanting recognition in the MTA system, to have Medgar Evers recognized like other CUNY institutions,” she said. “It took some legislative work, but we got it done.”
Other stations that contain the names of nearby colleges include Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn College, Bedford Park Boulevard-Lehman College, 68th Street-Hunter College, 116th Street-Columbia University and 8th Street-New York University.
“This is a sense of pride for us here in the central Brooklyn community,” Richardson added.
After the announcement, elected officials and MTA leaders hopped on the 5 train one stop from Franklin Avenue to President Street, where they planned a renaming ceremony. Dozens of lawmakers from across the five boroughs were in attendance.
At the celebration, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams read a letter from Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar Evers. She said the family was “graffitied and honored” for the recognition.
“It is our hope that the renaming of these stations will inspire and enable people of all ages to come to understand and remember his contributions and sacrifices,” Evers wrote. “Further, each time commuters enter and depart these stations, we hope they will be reminded of the significance and strength of those who endured enslavement, but nevertheless have fought against racism and injustice to create a world that would provide opportunities for institutions like Medgar Evers College to thrive.”
Notably absent from the celebration was Dr. Rudy Crew, the embattled president of Medgar Evers College who has held the position since 2013. Set to retire in June 2021, Crew applied to be the superintendent of the DeKalb County School District outside of Atlanta, but the school board there ultimately voted against his application.
Earlier this year, Evers opposed Crew staying on as the college’s president, going as far as writing a letter to the CUNY board criticizing his leadership. In June, hundreds of students marched in Crown Heights calling for his resignation.
According to reports, under his watch the college saw a 14 percent drop in enrollment since 2015.
Representing Medgar Evers College at the celebration was Augustine Okereke, the school’s senior vice president and provost. He said the station renamings were a point of pride for the institution.
“You cannot know how joyful it is for us to have these stations renamed after Medgar Evers College,” he said, calling it a “great image-maker” for the school. “This means so much to the success of the college.”