The ceremony did not last quite an hour but the moment was a over a century in the making. As the curtain was pulled from the road sign at the intersection of North Joe Wheeler Avenue and East 19th Street to reveal the new signage that changed the name of Joe Wheeler Avenue to Dr. Deborrah Hyde Avenue, Dr. Hyde looked at her sister, State Representative Omeria Scott, and said, “That’s really my name” and the two embraced. It was a fitting climax to what had been a moving ceremony.
While the renaming ceremony was held on Tuesday, October 25th, 2022, the story actually began in Kemper County in 1918 when World War I veteran Billie Huff, seeking better employment opportunities, walked to Laurel to get a job at a local sawmill. While looking for a job, he met his destiny. On East 18th Street, he saw a young woman walk by and noted to his friends that he liked her. His friends told him to forget about it. They explained that the young woman, Annie Belle Lang, was off limits as her father, George Lang, Sr., would never agree to let him court his daughter. So Huff, being resourceful, decided to court the father. After a year of working to impress Lang, he was allowed to turn his attentions to Annie Belle, who became Annie Belle Huff soon after. Huff, was not able to read, but was able to work hard, succeed, and build a strong legacy for his family. At one point, he owned a whole city block of property including his home which sat at the intersection of North Joe Wheeler Avenue and East 19th Street. It was in this home that his granddaughter, Deborrah was born—delivered by Katie Price, midwife and mother of opera great Leontyne Price. The home no longer stands. In its place is a marker in honor of Billie and Annie Belle. Last Tuesday, that lot played host to the renaming ceremony so that a street sign bearing Deborrah’s name now overlooks the spot where her grandparents lived and where she was born. “I am rooted to this spot,” Hyde said during her remarks on Tuesday. “I’m yoked to this corner, this street. For the rest of my days. It’s not about me, it’s about the DNA from which I came. I lived my whole life trying to be worthy of them and trying to make them proud.”
Hyde, who now works at Ellisville State School, has enjoyed an exceptional career in medicine after becoming the nation’s second African-American female neurosurgeon. According to one biography, the she graduated as valedictorian from Oak Park High School before majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry from Tougaloo College (1969). She later earned a master’s degree in developmental biology at Cleveland State University (1973) and completed her medical degree at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland (1977).
Her notable accomplishments include being elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha honor Medical Society, becoming the first African-American woman to receive board certification from the American Board of Neurological Surgery (1984), being named by the National Council of Negro Women “Black Women Who Make It Happen” presented at the White House by Oprah Winfrey (1990), receiving an honorary degree of doctors of humane letters from Tougaloo College (1997), and being imaged in stone in the “Promenade of Prominence” at Rogers State Park in Los Angeles. This honor was bestowed by the Minority Health Institute of Los Angeles who included her in the artwork to serve as an inspiration to young people throughout the city.
Dr. Hyde has also been featured in the Journal of the National Medical Association, Ebony, Emerge, American Medical News, Black Enterprise, Esquire, and Forbes, which featured her in their “Best of the New Generation: Men and Women Under Forty Who Are Changing America” (1984).
In 1991, she established the Beacon of Hope Scholarship Foundation to provide support to students in Laurel and Los Angeles.
During the event, Mistress of Ceremonies Tanya Gray praised her friend for her many accomplishments. “She has been many places and received many accolades but she has never forgotten where she came from,” Gray said noting that Hyde has been an ambassador and champion for the City of Laurel throughout her life and has mentioned it in every interview that she has given. “She mentions it everywhere!”
Reverend Vernon Graves read from Proverbs Chapter 22 to remind Hyde and her supporters that “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold.”
Reverend James McLaurin built on this idea in his remarks asking, “What does it take for someone to want to name a street after you?” McLaurin credited good character as the defining quality. “Your character will take you far,” he said. Hyde’s good name and character have taken her far and have earned her the recognition of her family, friends, and neighbors.
During his remarks, Laurel Mayor Johnny Magee provided proof that Dr. Hyde’s character had made an impact on her hometown. He noted that in order to change a street name, 75% of the residents and business owners in the area must sign a petition in favor of the change. In Dr. Hyde’s case, 100% of the local residents and business owners signed in her favor. Additionally, the planning committee and city council voted unanimously to approve the request.
“I have been so loved,” Dr. Hyde said during her remarks. “I’m humbled. I’m pleased. How could I not be happy?” Dr. Hyde expressed her passion for helping young people and encouraged those gathered to continue to help the area’s young people reach their full potential and to know that “the light is through Christ.”
Invocation and music was led by Dr. Jaymar Jackson.
The ceremony was live-streamed on social media by the Jones County Chamber of Commerce and can be found here :