By Danielle Brown, Inweekly
Tensions ran high among Escambia and Santa Rosa County citizens in the final public meeting over renaming the Pensacola Bay Bridge.
On Wednesday evening, the Pensacola Bay Bridge naming committee heard from nearly a dozen speakers with ideas for the bridge’s new name. Most of whom were veterans speaking in support of naming the bridge after General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., a Pensacola native and the first African American four-star general.
“We have a rare opportunity to honor this great American where he grew up,” said Pete Gandy, a retired Air Force Officer. “I urge this committee to join the city of Pensacola and Santa Rosa County in voting to name the new bridge in honor of General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. I cannot think of anyone, living or dead, who is more deserving.”
A show of hands at the end of Gandy’s speech revealed that the vast majority of citizens in attendance supported the bridge being named after the General.
In defense, Kirk Beall, the grandson of Philip D. Beall Sr. after whom the bridge is currently named, spoke to support both his and the General’s family name by proposing the new bridge be called the James-Beall Bridge.
“There’s an opportunity not to bash one family to lift another family up, and that’s kind of what has happened here,” Beall said, holding back emotion. “What I foresee happening, if we don’t do some kind of dual designation or with some kind of compromise, my family’s name is gonna go down in Pensacola history very badly.”
Derek Cosson, a Pensacola native and blogger, concluded the meeting by addressing an article he wrote in January 2019, which Beall alluded to above, that called Philip D. Beall Sr. a white supremacist and, therefore, unworthy of the bridge being named after him.
“He really did not deserve the honor in 1962, but those were different times,” Cosson said in his speech. “This is 2019 and the idea that we would continue to have that name on our beautiful, new bridge is frankly dismaying to me.”
This meeting was the final chance for public weigh-in on the bridge renaming, and the committee will gather again on July 9 to make a decision. However, committee’s selection doesn’t necessarily mean the choice will become the bridge’s official moniker.
The Florida Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis will have the final say on what the bridge will be named, since the structure is being funded with state dollars.