Spring Street in Americus, Georgia, runs from the Sumter County Courthouse on its east end to an intersection with Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard a mile to the west — a fitting route for a roadway that will officially renamed Millard Fuller Boulevard in an event currently scheduled for June 8 from 2-5 p.m.
Those end points are fitting because Fuller’s adult life would take him from a savvy lawyer to an inspirational leader who changed the world through the affordable housing movement he founded with his wife, Linda, in the form of Habitat for Humanity and then The Fuller Center for Housing.
The effort to rename the street was led by long-time Fuller family friend Jacob Battle — along with former Habitat employee Peggy Minor — who had residents and businesses along Spring Street sign a petition supporting the name change and spoke before the Americus City Council last week. The petition received overwhelming support, and Council unanimously passed the proposal.
“They loved it and gave me 100 percent support,” Battle said. “What drove me to do it is my friendship with Millard. He was my best friend for 24 years. We cried together, we prayed together, we traveled together. He loved people, and that’s what he showed all around the world. I am very happy. I am bubbling over.”
Among those whose support would be crucial for the renaming was Bill Harris, co-founder of Cafe Campesino, a fair-trade coffee company based on Spring Street, just across from the Habitat for Humanity Global Village and Discovery Center, a tourist attraction/awareness site for which Fuller fought hard to get built. Harris needed no prodding to sign on.
“We’re thrilled with it and signed the petition,” said Harris, whose company will gladly go through the processes of changing its official address. “I was at the city council meeting last Thursday night when it passed. Everybody in the room unanimously felt like it was a great thing to do. I consider Millard to have been a key influential person in my life, a mentor. It’s an honor to change the name of the street that’s in front of Cafe Campesino to Millard’s name.”
“My family and I are grateful and thrilled about the new Millard Fuller Boulevard,” Linda Fuller Degelmann, co-founder of Habitat for Humanity (1976) and The Fuller Center for Housing (2005), said in a statement.
“For this particular initiative, the most credit for this street-naming is due to one of Millard’s best and loyal friends, Jacob Battle, of Leslie, Georgia. Following Millard’s sudden death in February 2009, Jacob took it upon himself to find a visible way for citizens of Americus to express appreciation to Millard. We are grateful to Jacob for his persistent efforts in bringing people together for the purpose of presenting a proposal to the Mayor and City Council, having it approved and making Millard Fuller Boulevard a reality.”
‘THE IDEAL THOROUGHFARE’
If you drive west down what will become Millard Fuller Boulevard, past the Cafe, and turn right onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, you will come upon The Fuller Center for Housing, which Fuller led until his unexpected death from an aortic aneurysm in 2009. The current president of The Fuller Center, David Snell, said he and the organization are delighted with the city’s decision.
“We are grateful to Jacob Battle for leading this effort and to Mayor Barry Blount and the City Council for supporting it,” said Snell, adding that this particular street has a lot of connections to Fuller’s legacy.
“In many ways, this is the ideal thoroughfare — it runs next to the Global Village and Discovery Center, a great tourist destination for the city and a project that Millard championed, and by the Clarence Jordan Center, from which Millard’s vision grew into a worldwide ministry. It passes the old warehouse where so much of the construction that went into the Sumter County Initiative was coordinated. And it is met by both International Street and Habitat Street.”
Battle said the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard with Millard Fuller Boulevard is “very symbolic because Millard fulfilled the dreams of Dr. King. Millard put legs on the dream of Dr. King because he brought the former slaves and slave owners’ grandchildren and great-grandchildren together to work together. Millard built bridges from different ethnic groups. He built bridges all over the world for man to relate to man.”
The east end of Spring Street is just around the corner from Habitat for Humanity’s first headquarters, a small wooden home on Church Street.
“The seemingly impossible vision that God set before Millard — to eliminate substandard housing worldwide — was as challenging as much as it was exciting,” Degelmann recalls of those early days. “’No more shacks!’ became his clarion call as he traveled speaking the world over. However, Millard only had to look out his office window facing West Church Street to see plenty of need right at home. He figured that if a solution could be found to address and solve poverty housing locally that he would be able to challenge other communities to do likewise around the world.”
Locally, the Sumter County Initiative was launched in the 1990s, and Degelmann noted that as Habitat was celebrating the completion of its 100,000th house worldwide in 2000, a house in Americus’ Easter Morning neighborhood was dedicated and an official victory over poverty housing declared in Sumter County.
“Mayor Russell Thomas, George Peagler and Ted Swisher along with a diverse group of other leaders in churches, civic organizations, schools and businesses worked in partnership with Habitat for Humanity over a nine-year period to get the job done,” she recalled.
“Undeniably, Millard was the inspiration and ‘drum major’ behind the effort. Some said, ‘It can’t be done. That’s an unrealistic and impossible idea.’ Millard’s response was, ‘With God, all things are possible — not always easy, but possible.’ Indeed, Millard would be the first to say that what was accomplished took resources coming from within and outside of Sumter County. It took hundreds of individuals and groups including homeowners putting in their sweat equity hours.”
‘A LEGACY OF SERVICE’
Son Chris Fuller was among other family members who were thrilled to hear the news.
“Renaming Spring Street to Millard Fuller Boulevard in Americus gives me great joy,” said Fuller, Baptist Collegiate Ministries director at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. “My dad’s life journey intersected often with the city and people of Americus, so it is appropriate that future citizens can journey down this road and perhaps reflect on his life and the positive impact he had on Americus and the world. My dad’s journey and this boulevard can hopefully inspire similar, and even greater, journeys by the citizens and future citizens of this city I call my hometown, Americus the beautiful!”
Americus Mayor Barry Blount is used to having to find common ground between differing views on issues facing the city. And renaming a street can go from a simple honor to a headache when a majority of people do not support the change. He was glad to see such overwhelming support for the move.
“The renaming of Spring Street to Millard Fuller Boulevard is certainly a fitting tribute to a man who, along with his wife, Linda, strove to bring safe and decent homes to not only the residents of Americus and Sumter County but to people around the world,” Blount said. “Millard Fuller has certainly left a legacy of service for all mankind, and hopefully the naming of a street is the city’s way of thanking and honoring him for his service.”
After that ceremony, when people travel between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Dudley Street, visit the Global Village and Discovery Center or stop by Cafe Campesino for a delicious cup of fair-trade coffee, they will always be reminded of Millard Fuller’s legacy of service and know that Americus appreciates being connected with a man who changed the world for millions of people.