Strange Twist to a Street Re-named Dr. M. L. King Jr. Ave

Posted on May 20, 2012 by


From this point, the site of Clayborn Temple, westward view, approximately ¾ of the total distance of M. L. King Jr. Blvd., Memphis, TN.

Memphis’s powerful leadership has “announced” the “re-naming” of a “street” in the downtown area  to “honor” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The designated area is south of world-famous Beale Street and next to another world-famous point in American history, Clayborn Temple, where Dr. King started his last march.  This has become a symbolic rallying point for most of the city’s civil rights activities.  With superficial assessment, this area would seem perfect. But let’s take a look at what’s really happening.

In May of 2011 Muhammad Ziyad, owner of Ms. Black Memphis Pageant and I made a decision to stop by City Hall to advocate for naming a Memphis street for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..  I had written about this idea in various forums, and worked on it from many angles for years.   My personal mission was to raise awareness in Memphis about a need to follow the ways of the nation in honoring Dr. King’s vision by naming powerful thoroughfares Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave.

We were on the 5th floor near the council offices and there, serendipitously, we met Councilman Edmund Ford Jr.  We informally pitched our idea to him.  He listened like a “good councilman”, but didn’t appear to have much interest. He was not in the least helpful or encouraging.  Honoring MLK was definitely not part of his agenda, political or otherwise.  Nevertheless, we left there and went down to another office, the Office of Planning & Development.  There we met with an employee who gave to us application forms and information about the city’s street renaming/dedication process.

Three giant signs are sequenced and conveniently in a blue light district

Only in Memphis is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. “not” a boulevard at all but a 7/10 mile stretch of another street already named Linden Ave.   In cities around the country MLK Blvd. “is” prime real estate where millions of American citizens and the world acknowledge its namesake’s contributions to the world.   This issue has the appearance of being a small thing but, in reality, it isn’t.  It’s a big thing.  Think:  7/10 mile stretch connected to a “blue light district” versus a major boulevard, prime real estate, acknowledged and traveled with families, children, tourists, etc.  If the intent is to honor someone, the latter certainly trumps the former.

One very noticeable thing is the trio of rather large signs on Second, Third, and Front Streets. The seven remaining streets in that vicinity all have normal-sized signs.  Each street that carries the large sign is a street on which merchants pander to tourists and has nothing to do with honoring the works or sentiments of Dr. King.

During the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s  much conversation and debate evolved about the importance of naming streets after Black heroes.  The moment the biggest opportunity to honor a hero, in that way, is presented to them, our leadership drops the ball!  It’s clear that decision makers don’t truly understand Memphis’s role in the nation.  She’s poised to rule, but can’t wear the crown until her leadership realizes that our nation is depending on their stepping up to the plate.

Food for thought: Could it be that Memphis’ leaders put down or fail to truly recognize contributions made to the world by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because, in their minds, their contributions are greater?  This is the same attitude prevalent during the days preceding Dr. King’s visit to Memphis and his murder here. That bears repeating. This is the same attitude of Memphis leadership during the days just before MLK’s murder here.  Now, after over 40 years, Memphis’s leadership, perhaps for political expediency, decide to name 7/10 of a mile Dr. M. L. King Jr. Ave.   Cities that name a major thoroughfare after Dr. King sees it as the least that can be done for a man who revolutionized the world about race hatred and human rights. Only in Memphis, where responsibility to honor this American Icon is more obvious because of our failure to protect his life, is this point entirely missed.

One of many small signs

The question on this matter is: has Memphis murdered Dr. Martin L. King Jr. again?