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Jan. 15, 2018 - Nearly 100 people braved freezing temperatures and a brisk wind Monday afternoon to see the Mercury Boulevard bridge to Fort Monroe renamed for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The renaming also honored three enslaved black men who escaped from Confederate forces in the early months of the Civil War and sought refuge at Fort Monroe.
After thanking all those involved in the renaming, Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck spoke to the crowd about how King and those three men - Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory and James Townsend - challenged America to live up to the ideals set forth in the U.S. Constitution.
He spoke about visiting Senegal and standing in the "door of no return," a departure point for Africans who were forced into enslavement and sent to North America, South America and the Caribbean.
And he noted the continuum between the non-violent struggle for civil rights waged by King and the "twenty and odd negroes" who first set foot on North America in 1619 on the shores of what is known today as Fort Monroe.
Vice Mayor Linda Curtis spoke about Baker, Mallory and Townsend.
She described how they rowed from Norfolk to Fort Monroe on May 23 in 1861, looking for freedom, and how the Fort's commander, Major General Benjamin Butler, refused to give them back to Confederate forces.
The three men and thousands of other men, women and children who escaped the Confederacy became known as contraband of war, a decision that helped pave the way for the Emancipation Proclamation.
"That was the beginning, their road across was in its own way a bridge, a bridge to freedom," Curtis said. "As we stand here today... it is so appropriate that we name this bridge for both Dr. King and in their honor."
The measure to rename the bridge was approved in 2016. Formal markers were delayed until all legal agreements were approved by the King family.
Vice Mayor Linda Curtis