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This story by local TV news channel KXAN Austin was published in January 2011, on Martin Luther King’s birthday, the day that we all marched over the J.J. Seabrook Bridge for the very first time.


AUSTIN (KXAN) – In honor of one civil rights leader, thousands marched Monday on the street bearing his name. What many don’t know, it was the work of a local civil rights leader who is responsible for Martin Luther King Boulevard as Austinites know it today.

“I have lived here almost 30 years and I’ve never heard this story,” said Robert O’Dell. Late last year O’Dell, a local businessman heard Dr. John Jarvis Seabrook’s story.

“We need to do something,” O’Dell recalls thinking.

During the next year O’Dell worked with the West Austin Business Association and Council Member’s Sheryl Cole and Laura Morrison to tell the story of Seabrook.

Prior to 1975, Martin Luther King Boulevard ran east of Interstate 35. West of the interstate, the same road was known as 19th Street.

Seabrook spent years trying to get the name changed.

“He was retired. He was well respected in the community. He didn’t have to take on that fight, but he decided to take that on and the result today is what we see today, MLK Boulevard,” O’Dell said.

On May 1, 1975 , Seabrook came to Austin’s City Hall and stood in front of City Council. Like many times before, he spoke about the need to unite East and West Austin, via Martin Luther King Boulevard. During his speech to council, Seabrook collapsed.

“Mr. Seabrook actually died at a City Council meeting proposing that we name MLK on the east side and the west side of [I-]35 the same name,” said current Austin City Council member Sheryl Cole.

After Seabrook’s death, opposition against the name change took a back seat and the Council unanimously changed the name a week later.

After learning of Seabrook’s story, O’Dell decided to do something. With the help of Council member Cole, the bridge that now bridges the gap between East and West Austin on MLK Boulevard is known as the “J.J. Seabrook Bridge.”

“Life brings certain moments and those moments bring opportunity to stand up for what is right,” O’Dell said about the opportunity to recognize Seabrook and about what Seabrook did, as well.

“Today what we had was the first group of citizens to walk across a bridge dedicated to a man who spent his life unifying Austin,” said Cole.

O’Dell and the West Austin Business Association have also set up a $55,0000 scholarship fund in Seabrook’s name at Huston-Tillotson University .

The $55,000 amount is historically significant because that’s how much it cost to change the signs from 19th Street to MLK Boulevard back in 1975. According to O’Dell, at the time the cost was one of the biggest weapons those opposed to the name change used to try and convince the City Council not to go through with the change.

O’Dell said with the help of the West Austin Business Association, they have raised $53,000.