In virtually every major city in the United States and a lot of minor ones, some street or road has been renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Last week, a group of citizens in my current hometown of Carbondale, Illinois, proposed that the community of 20,000 (plus another 20,000 or so from Southern Illinois University) do the same thing.
Today, I wrote a letter to the city manager asking him to recommend against it. Just say no to King Street!
The actual proposal in Carbondale is to rename Mill Street, one of the oldest streets in town, to King Street in honor of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King. To those proposing the change, I say please go back to the drawing board and start again.
This proposal appears, on the surface, to be a feel-good proposal with no real thought or effort behind it. In that way, it is unworthy of Dr. King’s memory and legacy.
Furthermore, it neglects the history of Carbondale.
Finally, the timing is poor and the message is lost.
The primary reason that the city should opt against renaming Mill Street to King Street is that it is simply an inadequate means to honor Dr. and Mrs. King. Seriously, does anyone think of the Kings and their dream when driving down Martin Luther King Boulevard in any community? Half the time the road itself serves as a reminder of the racial divide that still exists, demarcating the “African American” section of a community.
I believe that if we want to honor the Kings, a much more appropriate means could be developed. Carbondale has an active Girls and Boys Club, annual events associated with Attucks’ School, the old segregated school, and multi-racial neighborhoods that could benefit from playgrounds and programs that honor the Kings. These ideas would take a lot more work than just naming a street after the Kings, but would also do much more to honor the Kings and promote their dreams and goals.
The second reason that the Carbondale City Council should reject the renaming of Mill Street is that it ignores the history of Carbondale in favor of national history. Dr. and Mrs. King have never had anything to do directly with Mill Street, but when the city was founded, the mill was part of life here. The mill stones and a plaque describing their role in the city’s heritage are still found along the street. The Kings play an important role in the history of our nation. Why should they only get a street that is only 6 blocks long?
A writer to the campus newspaper The Daily Egyptian suggested that perhaps one of the many tree named streets in the city could be renamed instead of Mill Street. As a resident of Walnut Street in the city’s Arbor District, I object to the loss of the tree streets as they to reflect an important part of Carbondale history. Long before it was fashionable and a world-wide effort to be ecologically conscious, Carbondale supported the growth of trees and the maintenance of the central hardwoods that grow here. Sadly, the oaks and walnuts and locust trees are disappearing more all the time. Where they are being preserved, as in the tree-lined streets of the Arbor District, I think they should continue to be honored. Choosing one of those streets at random to replace as King Street would be inane.
In addition, there are the purely economic and logistic concerns. Addresses would have to be changed, affecting the city’s 911 operations and existing maps. The Mill Street Apartments would need to be renamed. Anyone who suffered through the move to 911 addresses understands the pain here. Last year, we added an apartment number to my address and it took weeks just for the cable company to get it right, much less the rest of the world.
The final reason that this is a bad idea is because of the timing. Proponents want the renaming to be finished before the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination in April.
Ummm, no. Maybe its just me, but honoring Dr. King on the anniversary of his assassination is like honoring Lincoln on the day he got shot. It honors the death and not the life of Dr. King and it is his life that made a difference.
I think it’s time that we say no to King Street, King Boulevard or even the King Cul-de-Sac and find a new better way to honor the Kings.