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Naming Streets after Martin Luther King, Jr.: No Easy Road



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Naming Streets for Martin Luther
King, Jr.: No Easy Road
deRek h. aldeRMan
A Street Fight in Chattanooga
In 1981 Reverend M.T. Billingsley asked the city commission of Chatta-
nooga, Tennessee, to name a street aer slain civil rights leader Martin
Luther King, Jr.1 Rev. Billingsley’s request, which came on behalf of the
Ministers Union he helped lead, took place just ve days aer King’s birth-
day, which had not yet been made into a federal holiday, and less than a
year aer a controversial court verdict had incited civil disturbances in the
city. An all-white jury had acquitted two of three defendants arrested in
connection with the shooting of four black women. Ninth Street had been
the location of the Ku Klux Klan–related shooting, and, not coincidentally,
it was also the road that black leaders sought to rename for King. In addi-
tion, Ninth Street had long served as the city’s black business district and
was the site of a federally funded downtown redevelopment program.2
e street-naming request sparked several months of intense debate.
One of the major opponents to the name change was a T.A. Lupton, a white
real estate developer who owned a downtown oce building on the west
end of the street and was in the process of building another one there.
Lupton argued that he might not be able to rent oce space in a building
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216 • Landscape and Race in the United States
with a King address because of the “racial overtones” it might create. He
supported the renaming of East Ninth Street but not West Ninth Street,
implying that the civil rights leader’s memory would somehow be “out of
place” there. He was quoted as saying, “West Ninth Street is not related to
Dr. King. … [It] is no longer a solid black street. … It is no longer a residen-
tial street or rundown business street. It is a top class business street that
can play a great part in the future of Chattanooga.”3 e developer went so
far as to suggest that he would abandon or drastically alter his construc-
tion plans in the event that West Ninth was renamed.
Chattanooga’s city commissioners acquiesced to pressure from Lupton
and other opponents, refusing to rename Ninth. As a compromise, the
commission oered to establish a plaza in King’s memory. Street-naming
proponents quickly dismissed this alternative and responded by organiz-
ing a march along Ninth Street in late April 1981. Armed with ladders
and singing the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome,” more than three
hundred African Americans deantly—albeit temporarily—renamed the
street by pasting street signs and utility poles with green bumper stick-
ers that read “Dr. ML King Jr. Blvd.”4 Aer this protest and an emotional
request from a coalition of white and black ministers, the Chattanooga city
commission reversed itself in July and agreed to rename all of Ninth Street
for the civil rights leader as of January 1982.5
Controversy over the street renaming continued even aer the city com-
mission’s decision. National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People (NAACP) leaders would later encourage the boycott of a prominent
Chattanooga hotel that had changed its mailing address from West Ninth
to a bordering street, presumably to avoid being identied with Martin
Luther King.6 In the end, the street renaming did not stop Lupton, and he
went forward with construction plans; however, the resulting oce tower
and its companion building, the corporate headquarters of the Krystal
hamburger chain, do not have a King street mailing address. Instead, a
private drive was created and the buildings reside on—presumably with no
irony intended—Union Square.7
e street ght in Chattanooga was not an isolated event but part of
a growing landscape movement in America. In fact, when petitioning to
rename Ninth Street, several black leaders in Chattanooga cited the fact
that cities such as Atlanta and Chicago and even other cities in Tennes-
see had already honored King with a street-name change. More than 730
cities and towns in thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia had a
street named for King by 2003 (see Figure 11.1).8 Commemorating King
through street naming displays a strong regional concentration even as it
is a national trend. Seventy percent of places with King streets are located
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Naming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr.: No Easy Road • 217
in the seven southern states of Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Florida, Louisi-
ana, Alabama, and North Carolina. Georgia—King’s home state—leads the
country with 105 named streets. Naming streets for King occurs through-
out the urban hierarchy, from large cities such as New York, Los Angeles,
and Houston to some of the country’s smallest places such as Cuba, Ala-
bama (population 363), Pawley’s Island, South Carolina (population 138),
and Denton, Georgia (population 269). Although street-naming struggles
in metropolitan areas such as Chattanooga typically receive more public-
ity, it is worth noting that more than 50 percent of U.S. streets named for
King are in places with a population of fewer than ten thousand people
(see Figure 11.2).
Naming streets for King is widespread and oen has been controversial.
e practice and its controversies provide insight into the intersection of
race and landscape in the United States. King-named streets reect the
increased cultural and political power of blacks and the liberalization of
white attitudes even as they also are sites of struggle for African Ameri-
cans. I have suggested in previous work that these streets serve as memo-
rial arenas—public spaces for interpreting King’s historical legacy and
debating the connotations and consequences of commemorating him.9
As evident in the Tennessee case, there can be signicant dierences in
the extent to which people personally identify with King and wish to have
their street associated with him and, as they perceive it, the black com-
munity. Despite the victory in Chattanooga, African Americans in many
Figure 11.1 Distribution of streets named for Martin Luther King, Jr., 2003. Source: Compiled by
the author, Matthew Mitchelson, and Chris McPhilamy.
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218 • Landscape and Race in the United States
other cities have been unsuccessful in renaming thoroughfares that cut
across business districts and connect dierent racial groups. King’s name
is frequently attached to minor streets or portions of roads located entirely
within poor, black areas of cities (see Figure 11.3).10 is has led, in turn,
to the widespread belief that all King streets are this way, even though
2, 500–9,999
< 2,500
Population size
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
% of places with MLK street
Figure 11.2 Distribution of streets named for Martin Luther King, Jr. by city population.
Figure 11.3 Martin Luther King Circle in Phoenix, Arizona. The small cul-de-sac is invisible
on some city maps. Until recently, the six homes on the street were owned exclusively by
African Americans. Past attempts to rename a major road have met with resistance in a state
that refused to establish a paid holiday in King’s honor until it lost hundreds of millions of
dollars from convention cancellations and the National Football League’s decision to host the
1993 Super Bowl elsewhere. (Photograph by Keli Dailey, reproduced with permission.)
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Naming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr.: No Easy Road • 219
there are prominent roads bearing his name. As journalist Jonathan Tilove
so keenly observed, “It has become a commonplace of popular culture to
identify a Martin Luther King street as a generic marker of black space and
not incidentally, of ruin, as a sad signpost of danger, failure, and decline,
and a rueful rebuke of a people’s preoccupation with symbolic victories
over actual progress.”11 However, Tilove has found that King streets are
important centers of black identity and community within America.
Rather than a hollow gesture, street naming for many black activists is
about gauging society’s relative progress in fullling the goals of the civil
rights movement. For instance, when marching down Ninth Street in
Chattanooga, black leaders characterized their street-naming struggle as
an opportunity not only to celebrate King’s achievements but also “to test
whether ‘equality’ and ‘justice’ for all are valid statements, or whether they
have no meaning at all.”12
is chapter introduces King street-naming practice and explains why
it is important and controversial. My intent is to identify (1) the politi-
cal origins and historical development of the street-naming movement,
(2) the symbolic qualities of street naming as a means of commemorating
King, and (3) the political controversy and struggle that underlies street-
naming practices. Streets named aer King illustrate the important yet
contentious ways in which race, place, and memory intersect through the
American landscape. ey provoke “fervent debate about the meaning of
his [King’s] life and what kind of street would do him credit,” revealing
important divisions between blacks and whites as well as social contests
within African American communities.13
Origins of Streets Named aer Martin Luther King
e movement to name streets aer Martin Luther King originated
squarely within black community activism. King’s commemoration is
part of an ongoing eort on the part of African Americans to address the
exclusion of their experiences and achievements from the national his-
torical consciousness. According to Joseph Tilden Rhea, this movement
goes beyond the country’s general embrace of multiculturalism. Rather,
African Americans and other racial and ethnic groups are using direct
political action to challenge and change the commemoration of the past
within cultural landscapes, constituting what Rhea called the “race pride
movement.14 e race pride movement has had an impact on not just
street-naming patterns but also other commemorative forms such as stat-
ues, museums, preserved sites, heritage trails, and festivals. Although less
ornate or ostentatious than these memorials, street naming has become
one of the most common and visible strategies for African Americans to
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220 • Landscape and Race in the United States
elevate public recognition of King as well as a host of other gures identi-
ed with the struggle for equal rights, such as Rosa Parks, urgood Mar-
shall, Malcolm X, and Harriet Tubman. As author Melvin Dixon observed,
“Not only do these [street] names celebrate and commemorate great g-
ures in black culture, they provoke our active participation in that history.
What was important yesterday becomes a landmark today.15
In the case of street naming, African Americans are not simply honoring
the historical achievements of a single individual but seeking to establish the
public legitimacy of all blacks. Commemorating King is inseparable from
a broader consideration of racism and race relations, especially a desire to
reverse the control historically exercised by whites over racial and ethnic
minorities. Black activists envision being able to engage in commemoration
as part of the democratization of society and the gaining of a greater politi-
cal voice. For example, aer Chattanooga’s city commission nally approved
the renaming of Ninth Street for King, NAACP leader George Key concluded
that the decision shows that “black citizens are full citizens of Chattanooga
and have a right to be considered in what goes on in [the city].16 As Karen
Till argued, street-naming struggles such as seen in Tennessee “oen reect
larger social (power) disputes about who has authority to create, dene,
interpret, and represent collective pasts through place.”17
Given the central role that black activists play in initiating the street-
naming process, it is not surprising that a strong relationship exists
between the likelihood of a city or town identifying a street with King
and the relative size of its African American population (see Figure 11.4).
<1% 1–9.9% 10–29.9% 30–49.9% 50–74.9% 75%+
African American as % of total population
% of places with MLK street
Figure 11.4 Distribution of streets named for Martin Luther King, Jr. by relative size of city’s
African American population.
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Naming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr.: No Easy Road • 221
On average, African Americans constitute approximately 37 percent of
the population in a location with a street named for King. More than a
third of the time, African Americans make up 50 percent or more of the
population in places with a street named aer King. Street-naming cam-
paigns are oen conducted by local chapters of the NAACP, the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference, an organization that King once led, and
various other black-led community improvement associations and coali-
tions. e church is oen an important participant in the naming pro-
cess, as it has been in African American culture in general. Churches are
one of the nonresidential establishments most frequently found on streets
that bear King’s name.18 In Chattanooga, it was a union of black minis-
ters who spearheaded the renaming of Ninth Street. Ultimately it was this
group’s ability to form a coalition with white clergy in the city that helped
sway the opinion of local elected ocials. In the case of the small town of
Metter, Georgia, a local black pastor led the movement to rename a street.
e unveiling of Martin Luther King Boulevard took place on the Sunday
before the 1996 King holiday, and the dedication service began and ended
with prayer and the singing of church hymns. During the service, those in
attendance read a litany of dedication, pledging themselves to the ideals of
peace, freedom, and equality.
e race pride movement and the commemoration of King are rela-
tively recent developments; however, they are not entirely new and, in
some way, signal a return to an earlier American tradition. e United
States has a long history of honoring patriot heroes and using commemo-
rative symbols such as monuments, museums, and place names to focus
public attention and identication with certain political values and visions
of history. For instance, Zelinsky found that 25 percent of counties and 10
percent of streets in the United States are named aer national notables
or carry other patriotic references.19 Although the growing movement to
memorialize King and other civil rights leaders represents a return to hon-
oring inspirational heroes, we should not forget that earlier patterns of
commemoration were almost entirely devoted to honoring white histori-
cal gures such as presidents and the country’s founding fathers. Streets
named for King challenge the country’s dominant historical memory in
that they ask citizens to view the past and its heroes in much more diverse
terms, ones that specically address experiences common to being black
in America. In their book Presence of the Past, historians Roy Rosenzweig
and David elen found signicant racial dierences when surveying
Americans about how they value and identify with the past. Perhaps it is
not surprising that African American respondents are much more likely
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222 • Landscape and Race in the United States
than whites to cite the assassination of King as an event in the past that has
most aected them.20
e contributions of African Americans certainly do not begin or end
with King, but he has become the most widely identied symbol of the civil
rights movement and black heritage in general, sometimes at the histori-
cal neglect of lesser known activists, including women.21 King memorial-
izing began aer his assassination in 1968, but such eorts did not receive
immediate widespread approval.22 Four months aer the civil rights lead-
er’s death, the city of Chicago, Illinois, renamed South Park Way, perhaps
making it the country’s rst street named aer King. Although the road
stretches for several miles, it does not leave the city’s predominantly African
American South Side. On South Park Way, an African American church
chose to use one of its side streets as an address rather than be identied
with the civil rights leader. e pastor at the time, Reverend Joseph Jack-
son, was a conservative opponent of the civil disobedience campaign and
a “bitter rival of King’s in national black Baptist circles.”23 In 1972 ocials
in Montgomery, Alabama, approved and then quickly rescinded a measure
to rename a street for King. e White Citizens Council—an organization
that King battled during the city’s famous bus boycott—opposed the name
change because white-owned businesses and a white Masonic lodge were
found on the street and the street was not located entirely in the black com-
munity.24 It was not until 1976 that Atlanta, Georgia—King’s hometown—
placed his name on a street. Commercial interests opposed the naming of
a street in his honor, though without success.25 Today, Martin Luther King
Jr. Drive, on the west side of the city, is the location of signicant economic
development and a major landmark in the city’s tourism industry.
King’s status rose when the federal government established a holiday
to honor him in 1983, although passage of the holiday came een years
aer rst being proposed in Congress and aer debate among black lead-
ers about the most appropriate date to observe.26 ere are indications that
the King holiday has helped propel the street-naming movement. It is dif-
cult to know exactly when many of the country’s cities and towns named
a street for King; however, a preliminary survey of Georgia municipalities
revealed that only 13 percent of responding communities named a street
before the King federal holiday was signed into law by Ronald Reagan.
More than a third of responding cities said they had renamed a street
between 1984 and 1989. e remaining 52 percent of street naming in
Georgia occurred aer 1990.27 In many instances, local King holiday cel-
ebration commissions organize street-naming campaigns. Many petitions
to name a street are brought before local governments immediately before
or aer the King holiday in January. Although the holiday made King an
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Naming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr.: No Easy Road • 223
ocially recognized icon and gave further legitimacy to commemorating
him, it was perhaps what the holiday could not oer African Americans
that most inspired their requests to rename streets. Unlike the holiday,
which comes just once a year, a commemorative street name provides a
physically permanent memorial that is present all the time. e King holi-
day remains controversial. Some local governments still refuse to recog-
nize it, and only 26 percent of the country’s businesses give a paid day o
to their employees.28 Consequently, naming a street represents a more con-
crete way for communities to display their commitment to King’s memory
and ideals. African Americans are also pursuing street naming because of
its symbolic qualities.
Symbolism of Streets Named aer Martin Luther King
e seemingly mundane practice of street naming invokes intense emo-
tional response. e attraction of commemorative street naming to Afri-
can American communities is multifaceted, and commemorating Martin
Luther King in the urban landscape transcends an immediate concern with
simply naming roads to symbolically mediate myriad questions of race
and racism in American life. King street-naming practices mark concerns
for and debates about political meaning, power and resistance, historical
representation, social justice, public space and infrastructure access, urban
diversity, and community memory and identity. ese debates extend
beyond African American communities, to open up oen long-standing
American cultural, political, social, and economic tensions.
As Maoz Azaryahu suggested, “Street names are more than a means of
facilitating spatial orientation. Oen they are laden with political mean-
ings and represent a certain theory of the world that is associated with and
supportive of the hegemonic socio-political order.”29 In other words, street
names, along with other forms of memorialization, participate in legitimiz-
ing a selective vision of the past, making historical representations appear
to be the natural order of things. Places named aer historical people or
events are important symbols within a country’s political culture and oen
are manipulated by state leaders or elites to reconstruct national identity.30
e power of street naming means that it also can be used by histori-
cally subordinate or marginalized groups as a form of resistance to chal-
lenge prevailing ideas about their identity and importance within society.31
Black activists oen are aware of the counterhegemonic potential of nam-
ing streets for King. A street-name change symbolizes a shi in the racial-
ized balance of power between whites and blacks as well as racial progress
within communities. Such feelings were expressed in Statesboro, Geor-
gia, in 1994 when citizens were asked to submit their views on whether
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224 • Landscape and Race in the United States
a major perimeter highway should be named: “I want to convey my per-
sonal suggestion to name the road Martin Luther King Parkway. I agree
that this naming would arm an important segment of our … [city] and
county population and would be a healing and unifying act.”32 Some black
activists in Statesboro conceptualized naming the perimeter for King as
an ideological weapon against an oppressive white cultural structure. For
instance, the local NAACP leader argued that several of the city’s exist-
ing streets were named aer racist whites and that local leaders had never
asked members of the black community if these streets bothered them.
He added, “We need a street that honors a man that symbolizes some-
thing dierent about race. Dr. King stood for equality.”33 In this respect,
the naming of streets is conceptualized by some blacks as an antiracist
practice, a way of inscribing a new vision of race relations into the Ameri-
can landscape.
African Americans have sought access to several mediums of public
commemoration, but street naming has proved to be especially important.
Symbolically, street naming is the latest chapter in a long line of African
American struggles for social justice in the area of mobility and transpor-
tation. Streets do not operate in a race- and class-neutral society; a politics
underlies their organization, use, and meaning.34 Although transportation
racism is usually understood in terms of the inequity found in highway
spending, road improvements, and mass transit planning, it also can refer
to the barriers that confront racial and ethnic minorities as they seek to
dene the symbolic identity and meaning of roads as public spaces. From
the Underground Railroad to the Freedom Riders, black communities have
long looked to movement and transportation as conduits for challenging
and changing the racial order. Sally Greene—a white city councilor in Cha-
pel Hill, North Carolina, and a supporter of renaming the city’s Airport
Road for King—expressed the strong connection she saw between street
naming and the larger history of African American struggles for equality:
Under Jim Crow laws, blacks had a hard time just making a road
trip. ey had to pack their own food, even their own toilet paper,
for they didn’t know if they would nd a restaurant that would
serve them or even a gas station where they could use the bath-
room. … en came Dr. King and the bus boycott and the push for
the public accommodation law. … Mobility, the freedom to travel
the public roads without fear and with assurance that you get what
you needed—these were the basic goals for King. us, I can’t think
of a better way to honor Dr. King than with a road naming.35
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Naming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr.: No Easy Road • 225
Aside from the specic historical experiences of African Americans,
commemorative street naming is, in general, an important vehicle for
bringing the past into the present. e seemingly ordinary and practical
nature of street names makes the past tangible and intimately familiar.
Because of its practical importance, street naming inscribes its ideologi-
cal message into many practices and texts of everyday life.36 Yvonne Aik-
ens, who pushed to have a street named for King in Tampa, expressed this
point well:
A street touches more people than if they had just named a build-
ing aer him downtown. … People who wouldn’t go to a building
or a park named for King drive on a major thoroughfare such as
Bualo (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.) for business or per-
sonal reasons. … ey see the name at intersections, on signs
pointing to the road, on maps. It pops up on addresses, letters,
business cards, constantly keeping King’s name before the pub-
lic. … More people come in contact with it.37
By all indications, it appears that Tampa’s King Boulevard is a highly vis-
ible point of contact for the public. It extends for more than fourteen miles,
connects with two interstate highways, and serves as an address for more
than 550 nonresidential or business establishments.38
e power and politics of commemorative street naming lie in its dual
and simultaneous existence as historical referent and form of spatial iden-
tication. A street name’s practical nature does not necessarily lessen
its symbolic function. Rather, the commemorative importance of street
names comes from their status as markers of location. Public commemo-
ration is not simply about determining the appropriateness of remember-
ing the past in a certain way but a struggle over where best to place that
memory within the cultural landscape.39
e symbolism of location in commemorating King was perhaps no
more apparent than in Brent, Alabama, when blacks protested attach-
ing King’s name onto a road leading to a garbage dump. Reverend W.B.
Dickerson petitioned the city council to rename another, more prominent
street, and said, “We want [Martin Luther King Street] up where people
can really see it.”40 Similarly, in March 2002 African American activist
Torrey Dixon petitioned the city council of Danville, Virginia, to rename
Central Boulevard, a major commercial thoroughfare. ough unsuccess-
ful, he considered the boulevard an “appropriate street” because its central
location and high volume of trac would ensure that many people would
see King’s name. Dixon even refused to rename an alternative street that
had a strong historical connection with King’s visit to Danville in 1963
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226 • Landscape and Race in the United States
because he claimed it was a low class neighborhood.”41 ese situations
arm Johnson’s suggestion that the location not simply is the “incidental
material backdrop” for memory but plays an active role in constructing the
meaning of commemoration.42 As Jonathan Tilove observed, “To name
any street for King is to invite an accounting of how the street makes good
on King’s promise or mocks it.”43
For many African Americans, streets have a geographic connectivity
that contributes to their symbolism. is was made clear in one editorial:
“Renaming a street is a uniquely appropriate way to honor King. Streets
unite diverse neighborhoods. ey touch all ages, all races, all economic
levels, and the resident and the visitor equally. ey link people and places
that otherwise would remain insular.”44 e notion of connectivity is par-
ticularly relevant to commemorating King. For instance, African Amer-
ican activist Allen Stucks envisioned Martin Luther King Boulevard in
Tallahassee, Florida, in terms of King’s goal of racial integration: “Rev.
King was about togetherness. … If his name was going to be on a street
in Tallahassee, it had to be on one that connected one neighborhood to
another. And it had to be one you could nd without having to wiggle
through the black community.” In the case of King Boulevard in Tallahas-
see, the street “connects one of the nation’s oldest historically black uni-
versities to the entire city. It traces through black neighborhoods, white
neighborhoods, businesses, parks and cemeteries.”45 e street named for
King in Austin, Texas, also crosses racial lines, the result of the passionate
yet fatal lobbying of J.J. Seabrook. He died of a heart attack while pleading
with the city council not to restrict the named street to the black com-
munity.46 Street naming is a potentially powerful form of commemoration
because of its capacity to make certain visions of the past accessible to a
wide range of social groups. However, it is this potential to touch and con-
nect disparate groups—some of which may not identify with King—that
also makes street naming controversial.
e symbolic meaning of streets named aer King is also about how
they connect with a larger memorial landscape, including other named
places, historical markers, murals, and monuments. Found along Martin
Luther King Jr. Drive in Asheville, North Carolina, is a recreational park
that also bears the civil rights leader’s name. e centerpiece of the park is a
life-size statue of King leading two small children. It is not uncommon for
King to be remembered alongside other historical gures (see Figure 11.5).
Streets named aer King and Malcolm X intersect in Dallas, Texas (as well
as in Harlem, New York), creating an interesting moment for reecting on
the similarities and dierences in how these two leaders worked for civil
rights. At the Martin Luther King Memorial Gardens in Raleigh, North
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Naming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr.: No Easy Road • 227
Carolina, a bronze statue of King overlooks a major road bearing his name.
Next to the statue is a marble fountain inscribed with the names of civil
rights leaders from the Raleigh area, creating a place where visitors can
interpret the interweaving of national and local civil rights movements.
Yet bringing national and local civil rights histories together can create
contradictory landscape formations. For instance, the Ralph Mark Gilbert
Civil Rights Museum in Savannah, Georgia, is located on Martin Luther
Figure 11.5 Freedom Corner Monument at the intersection of Martin Luther King and Medgar
Evers boulevards in Jackson, Mississippi. Streets named for King do not exist in a symbolic vacuum
but become connected to other memorial forms, other historical figures, and other political causes.
In 2001, for example, a group led by a black city councilman burned a state flag at Freedom Corner in
calling for removal of the Confederate battle emblem from Mississippi’s official banner. (Photograph
by Elizabeth Hines, reproduced with permission.)
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228 • Landscape and Race in the United States
King Jr. Boulevard even though African American leaders—including
Gilbert—tried to bar King from preaching in the city in the 1960s. ey
feared that the civil rights leader’s presence would antagonize Savannah
authorities and disrupt an already successful protest movement.47 It is
not surprising that the Gilbert museum says little about King but focuses
largely on local activists and struggles. Roger Stump suggested that streets
named for King are “public symbols of community values, attitudes, and
beliefs, revealing the character of both the gure commemorated and the
community that has honored him.”48 As symbols, streets named for King
oen are contested sites that erupt through the political tensions underly-
ing the remembrance of King along America’s roadways.
e Politics of Streets Named for Martin Luther King
e symbolic work of naming streets for Martin Luther King perhaps most
oen takes place through highly public debate and controversy. Just the
very naming of streets aer King can have unforeseen consequences and
can spark political opposition. In 1987 citizens in San Diego, California,
and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, voted to revoke the renaming of streets for
King. Both cities later placed his name on smaller roads.49 When the city
council in Portland, Oregon, voted in 1990 to rename Union Avenue aer
King, more than two dozen people picketed and heckled the street-naming
ceremony and more than y thousand people signed a petition oppos-
ing the name change. Because of this backlash, Portland voters were to be
given a chance to vote on an initiative in an upcoming primary election
that would have changed the name of the street back to Union Avenue, but
before the election was held, a county circuit judge ruled that placing such
an initiative on the ballot was illegal.50
e landscapes of commemorating King can serve as ashpoints around
what sociologist Gary Fine called “reputational politics” and provide a
mechanism for identifying and xing political positions and for opening
up political debate about King and his legacies, as well as for larger issues
around race and power. e historical image of a person is a social product
open to multiple and competing constructions and interpretations. ere
can be any number of dierent discourses or common ways of thinking and
talking about a person and his or her contribution to society. e historical
reputation of a person is used and controlled by social actors and groups
who seek to advance their own commemorative agenda and divert the
agendas of other parties. Fine recognized that the “control of history may
be contentious, and the claims of one group may be countered by another
that wishes to interpret the same … person through a dierent lens.51
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Naming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr.: No Easy Road • 229
Naming streets aer King as reputational politics highlights any num-
ber of contemporary political issues revolving around race. ese issues
range from representations of King, his legacy, and his legitimacy to ques-
tions about King’s resonance within African American communities and
in American life more broadly. ey oen extend to expose basic racial
and political tensions about urban economic vitality and urban apartheid,
and they oen work through a politics of scale to join local and national
interests. e landscapes of streets named for King are politically charged
and oen are sites of political struggle.
Reputational politics oen arise rst when African Americans seek to
establish the very legitimacy of commemorating King. City ocials in
Americus, Georgia, did not rename a portion of U.S. 19 until black com-
munity leaders planned a boycott of city businesses. Part of the controversy
stemmed from the comments of a white re ocial. He supported naming
half of the street for King if authorities named the other half for James Earl
Ray, the man convicted of assassinating the civil rights leader.52 In Dade
City, Florida, vandals painted the name “General Robert E. Lee” over nine
Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard signs, an incident symptomatic of the
American South’s ongoing struggles over identity and memory. In a single
year, almost one hundred street signs with King’s name in Hillsborough
County, Florida, were either spray painted, shot at, or pulled completely
from their poles.53 Not long aer ocials in Mankato, Minnesota, named
a small street for King, “an unidentied motorist mowed down both of …
[the city’s] new MLK street signs while shouting racial epithets at some
passing children.”54
In addition to legitimacy, the politics of constructing King’s historical
reputation through street naming is also a struggle over resonance. One of
the largest obstacles facing African Americans is the prevailing assump-
tion, particularly among whites, that King’s historical relevance is limited
to the black community. In Statesboro, Georgia, African Americans tried,
unsuccessfully, on two occasions to have a major road identied with
King. In their rst attempt, black activists struggled with local veterans
over naming a new perimeter highway. Veterans succeeded in represent-
ing their memorial cause as inclusive of all races and groups of people. In
contrast, they depicted the commemoration of King as socially divisive,
suggesting that his memory did not resonate with whites. Outspoken black
leaders countered by asserting the universal importance of King’s legacy.
ey reminded the public of his war on poverty and economic inequal-
ity—issues of great concern not only to blacks but to all Americans.55
In representing the street-naming issue as divisive, some whites have
suggested that King—because of his legacy as a peacemaker—would not
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230 • Landscape and Race in the United States
have wanted his commemoration characterized by racial conict. For
example, street-naming opponents in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, argued
this point when they called on black leaders to rename a park, library, or
school for King rather than the controversial Airport Road. Black sup-
porters such as Michele Laws countered with King’s own words: “e ulti-
mate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and
convenience but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”56
ese attempts by some whites to represent the civil rights leader’s image
as nonconfrontational is, according to Michael Eric Dyson, part of a larger
national amnesia about King’s true legacy. According to Dyson, most
of America chooses to remember King as the “moral guardian of racial
harmony” rather than as a radical challenger of the racial and economic
order.57 In this respect, the politics of street naming are not just about black
Americans establishing the legitimacy and resonance of King’s achieve-
ments but also about wrestling away control of his historical legacy from
conservative whites, who have appropriated his image to maintain the sta-
tus quo rather than redene it.
In the struggle to elevate the historical reputation of King, black activ-
ists oen engage in a “politics of scale.”58 On one hand, African Ameri-
cans seek to extend the geographic and social reach of King’s importance
within cities. ey suggest that his signicance is not limited to the black
community and hence seek to name major thoroughfares that cut across
and unite dierent racial communities. On the other hand, opponents
attempt to place spatial boundaries around the people and locations that
will be associated with the commemorative naming. ey interpret the
civil rights leader strictly as an African American advocate and seek to
conne his name to areas that do not seem to directly touch the lives and
geographies of the white community. is was evident in Chattanooga
when opponents argued that King’s name did not belong on the western
part of Ninth Street because it was no longer a “blackstreet and might
subsequently harm white-led economic development. In resisting these
eorts to segregate King’s memory, street-naming proponents asserted the
cross-racial legitimacy of memorializing the civil rights leader. In making
the argument for renaming all of Ninth Street, U.S. representative Par-
ren Mitchell, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, explained,
All groups want monuments and symbols of their race. But with King, of
course, it was more than a matter of race—it was the impact he had on this
nation and this world.”59
Many black communities see the naming of a prominent, highly visible
street as a reection of the importance that a community places on King.
e naming of large, racially diverse streets allows African Americans to
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Naming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr.: No Easy Road • 231
educate the entire community about the contributions of King. In con-
trast, renaming a smaller, less prominent street represents a restriction
of King’s image and its potential to reshape the public’s historical con-
sciousness. e rescaling of King’s memory was certainly in the minds of
NAACP leaders in Clearwater, Florida, when they persuaded local ocials
to remove King’s name from a three-block stretch of road and rename a
three-mile length of road that cuts through a variety of residential neigh-
borhoods and the city’s historically African American business district.
As one activist contended, “If King is going to have a road named aer
him, it should be more signicant. It should traverse dierent areas of the
city, dierent boundaries.”60 Not all African American communities are
successful in naming streets (or portions of streets) that reach beyond the
geographic boundaries of the black community. A study in 2000 of streets
named for King in the southeastern United States found them to be located
in largely African American areas of cities.61 More recent research for the
nation as a whole suggests that neighborhoods intersected by these streets
have a signicantly larger proportion of African Americans than their
respective cities.62
When African American activists seek to remember King on prominent
thoroughfares, they oen encounter harsh opposition from owners and
operators of businesses along the potentially renamed street. Businesses
most oen cite the nancial burden of changing their address as printed
on stationery, advertising, and billing statements. Some opponents such as
in Zephyrhills, Florida—whose city ocials voted to dedicate rather than
rename a street for King in 2004—expressed fear that property values
would drop as a result of being located on a street named for King.63 ere
is no evidence to suggest that street naming brings a decline in property
value or loss of business, as suggested by the white developer in Chatta-
nooga. In fact, several streets named for King in this country are the focus
of signicant redevelopment eorts, such as Indianapolis, Indiana; Jersey
City, New Jersey; Savannah, Georgia; Miami, Florida; and Seattle, Wash-
ington. King’s memory does not necessarily cause poverty and degrada-
tion along streets. Rather, his name is oen placed in poorer areas as a
result of public opposition to naming more prominent places. Although
resistance from business interests has signicantly limited the scale of
King’s commemoration, large numbers of commercial establishments can
be found on several streets named for the civil rights leader (e.g., Tampa,
Florida; Los Angeles, California; Washington, D.C.; Portland, Oregon;
and New Bern, North Carolina) (see Figure 11.6). Analyzing the almost
eleven thousand nonresidential establishments in the United States that
have an address on a street named for King, Matthew Mitchelson found
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232 • Landscape and Race in the United States
these establishments to be on par with national trends in terms of annual
sales volume and number of employees. However, he also found that these
streets are “less industrially diverse than other places” and “host a dispro-
portionately high number of establishments traditionally categorized as
‘black businesses,’ such as beauty parlors and barber shops, small retail
grocery stores, and funeral parlors.”64
In arguing against street-naming proposals, business and property own-
ers consistently attempt to represent their opposition as not racially moti-
vated but simply a matter of cost and convenience. And in some cases, such
as in Chattanooga, whites interpret the evoking of King’s image by blacks
as an attempt to create racial overtones. At the same time, black propo-
nents almost always point to this opposition as racist in nature. As pointed
out by Blauner, whites and blacks oen “talk past each other” because they
dene racism dierently. According to him, “Whites locate racism in color
consciousness and its absence in color blindness.”65 ey tend to see anti-
black racism as a thing of the past, supposedly ending with segregation,
lynching, and explicit white supremacist beliefs. e African American
Figure 11.6 An example of commercial development along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in
New Bern, North Carolina. Contrary to the prevailing vision that streets named for King are always
found in poor, economically marginalized areas, the street in New Bern is the center of significant
nonresidential development such as national chain stores, a shopping mall, a Wal-Mart, car dealer-
ships, and two soft-drink bottling plants (Pepsi and Coca-Cola). (Photograph by Matthew Mitchel-
son, reproduced with permission.)
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Naming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr.: No Easy Road • 233
public, according to Blauner, denes racism much more in terms of power
and how certain underlying structures and institutions maintain racial
oppression even in the absence of explicitly stated prejudicial attitudes.
Rather than being a thing of the past, racism from the black point of view
continues to exist and has taken on a much more insidious form, as evident
in the unwillingness of white entrepreneurs to change their addresses.
In characterizing the racism that African Americans encounter when
attempting to honor King, we might nd it worthwhile to interpret busi-
ness opposition to street naming as a form of “rational discrimination.”
According to Bobby Wilson, in his analysis of black activism and struggle
in the postmodern era, the overt racism of Eugene “Bull” Connor has been
replaced by a “rational discrimination” in which businesses and corpora-
tions use the pursuit of prot or cost savings as justication for not invest-
ing in African American people and places.66 Such a position can deny the
sometimes-structural impediments to equality. In addition, this “rational”
form of discrimination is sometimes driven by the emotional memories
of past racial tensions. For instance, in Muncie, Indiana, Ed McCloud
responded to the changing of his address from Broadway to Martin Luther
King by closing his appliance business of y years. Although McCloud
expressed concern about customers not being able to nd his store, he did
admit vividly remembering when one of his earlier stores had been set on
re by rioters following King’s assassination in 1968. McCloud added, “I
swore then that I would not let the black community—or anyone else—
hurt my business again.”67
Struggles to construct the importance and meaning of King’s reputa-
tion are not simply interracial but also within the African American com-
munity. Embracing dierent political goals, African American leaders
sometimes disagree with each other over which street to name in honor
of King. Even in Chattanooga, where black leaders formed an impressive
coalition, one could nd evidence of the street-naming issue being viewed
in multiple and sometimes competing ways by African Americans. One
particularly outspoken activist wished to see King’s name on a street in a
“better part of town,” contending that much of Ninth Street was charac-
terized by crime and marginal economic activity. NAACP leader George
Key countered by asserting that a renamed Ninth Street “would be a sym-
bol to let young blacks know that there is something in Chattanooga they
can identity with to have the feeling that Chattanooga cares about its
black people.”68 In Eatonton, Georgia, two African American leaders had
a more visible competition—one lobbied for the naming of a major high-
way that ran the length of town whereas the other persuaded local o-
cials to name a residential street within the black community. Whereas the
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234 • Landscape and Race in the United States
activist advocating for the thoroughfare emphasized using King’s memory
to challenge and expand the historical consciousness of whites, the other
activist emphasized how the naming of the residential street would focus
and inspire African Americans.69 Street naming is a negotiated process in
which even black participants must balance between allowing the impor-
tance of King’s commemoration to transcend the black community and
keeping it within symbolic reach of African Americans.
Concluding Remarks
Like the civil rights movement they commemorate, streets named aer
Martin Luther King symbolize both black empowerment and struggle.
Jonathan Tilove put it best when he wrote that these streets are the “geo-
political synthesis of black insistence and white resistance.”70 Of course,
as I have tried to demonstrate, these streets also provoke us to go beyond
monolithic conceptions of “the” black community and to comprehend
in fuller terms historical consciousness, geographic agency, and politi-
cal activism among a diversity of African American interests. Similarly,
these street-naming practices reveal that in every racialized struggle, the
lines of opposition are not always or necessarily drawn along the demar-
cations of the black–white binary. As a rapidly growing movement that
touches people in intimate and potentially controversial ways, the naming
of streets for King provides a glimpse into where the country is in terms of
race relations. Depending on the ultimate location that these streets take,
they can symbolize the expansion of African American cultural expres-
sion and inuence or simply a reentrenchment of the boundaries that
have traditionally constrained black power and identity. Although named
streets commemorate the civil rights movement as a completed part of the
country’s past, they speak, perhaps more important, to the still unnished
nature of King’s dream of racial equality and social justice.
1. An expanded discussion of the street ght in Chattanooga and the ongoing
American movement to build civil rights memorials can be found in Owen
Dwyer and Derek H. Alderman, Civil Rights Memorials and the Geography
of Memory (forthcoming). I am indebted to Ronald Foresta for rst making
me aware of the street-name struggle in Chattanooga.
2. Pat Wilcox, “New Request Made to Rename Ninth Street for Late Dr. King,”
Chattanooga Times, January 21, 1981, B2.
3. Pat Wilcox, “Unity Asked in Street Name Change,” Chattanooga Times,
March 25, 1981, B1.
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Naming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr.: No Easy Road • 235
4. Je Powell, “Blacks ‘Rename’ Ninth Street,” Chattanooga News-Free Press,
April 19, 1981, A1.
5. Pat Wilcox, “City Reverses, Renames Ninth Street for King,” Chattanooga
Times, July 15, 1981, A1.
6. Pat Wilcox, “Key Calls Change in Read House Address Racism,” Chatta-
nooga Times, January 16, 1982, A1.
7. Jonathan Tilove, Along Martin Luther King: Travels on Black America’s Main
Street (New York: Random House, 2003).
8. Identication of the number of streets named for Martin Luther King, Jr.
was carried out in summer 2003 by Matthew Mitchelson, Chris McPhilamy,
and Derek Alderman by performing street-name lookups in,, and American Business Disc (InfoUSA).
A more comprehensive data collection by Mitchelson found 777 places in
the United States with streets named for King. Matthew Mitchelson, “e
Economic Geography of MLK Streets” (master’s thesis, East Carolina Uni-
versity, 2005).
9. Derek H. Alderman, “Street Names as Memorial Arenas: e Reputational
Politics of Commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. in a Georgia County,”
Historical Geography 30 (2002): 99–120.
10. Hollis Towns, “Back Streets Get King’s Name,” Atlanta Journal-Constitu-
tion, October 30, 1993, A3.
11. Tilove, Along Martin Luther King, 5–6.
12. Quoted in Powell, “Blacks ‘Rename’ Ninth Street,” A1.
13. Tilove, Along Martin Luther King, 21.
14. Joseph T. Rhea, Race Pride and the American Identity (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1997).
15. Melvin Dixon, “e Black Writer’s Use of Memory,” in History and Mem-
ory in African-American Culture, ed. G. Fabre and R. O’Meally (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1994), 18–27, 20.
16. Quoted in Wilcox, “City Reverses, Renames Ninth Street for King,” A1.
17. Karen Till, “Staging the Past: Landscape Designs, Cultural Identity and Erin-
nerungspolitik at Berlin’s Neue Wache,” Ecumene 6 (1999): 251–83, 254.
18. Derek H. Alderman, “Creating a New Geography of Memory in the South:
e Politics (Re)naming Streets aer Martin Luther King, Jr.” (Ph.D. diss.,
University of Georgia, 1998); Mitchelson, “e Economic Geography of
MLK Streets,” chap. 6.
19. Wilbur Zelinsky, Nation into State: e Shiing Symbolic Foundations of Amer-
ican Nationalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988).
20. Roy Rosenzweig and David elen, Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of His-
tory in American Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).
21. Owen J. Dwyer, “Interpreting the Civil Rights Movement: Place, Memory,
and Conict,” Professional Geographer 52 (2000): 660–71.
22. Kenneth Foote, Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscapes of Violence and
Tragedy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997).
23. Tilove, Along Martin Luther King, 20.
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236 • Landscape and Race in the United States
24. Roger W. Stump, Toponymic Commemoration of National Figures: e
Cases of Kennedy and King,” Names 36 (1988): 203–16.
25. “King Drive Wins City Council Approval,” Atlanta Constitution, April 20,
1976, 1A.
26. Gary Daynes, Making Villains, Making Heroes: Joseph R. McCarthy, Mar-
tin Luther King Jr., and the Politics of American Memory (New York: Gar-
land, 1997).
27. Alderman, “Creating a New Geography of Memory in the South.”
28. National Public Radio, “Martin Luther King Holiday,Morning Edition,
January 19, 1998.
29. Maoz Azaryahu, “German Reunication and the Politics of Street Names:
e Case of East Berlin,” Political Geography 16 (1997): 479–93, 480.
30. Saul B. Cohen and Nurit Kliot, “Place-names in Israel’s Ideological Struggle
over Administered Territories,” Annals of the Association of American Geog-
raphers 82 (1992): 653–80.
31. Garth A. Myers, “Naming and Placing the Other: Power and the Urban
Landscape in Zanzibar,” Tidschri voor Economische en Sociale Geograe
87 (1996): 237–46.
32. “Suggestions Submitted to Perimeter Naming Committee,” Bulloch County,
Georgia, April 1–June 1, 1994.
33. Donnie Simmons (member of the NAACP chapter in Bulloch County, Geor-
gia, and street-naming activist), in discussion with the author, May 21, 1997.
34. Robert D. Bullard and Glenn S. Johnson, Just Transportation: Dismantling
Race and Class Barriers to Mobility (Stony Creek, CT: New Society, 1997);
Robert D. Bullard, Glenn S. Johnson, and Angel O. Torres, eds., Highway
Robbery: Transportation Racism and New Routes to Equity (Cambridge,
MA: Southend Press, 2004).
35. Sally Greene (city councilor in Chapel Hill, North Carolina), in discussion
with the author, May 24, 2004.
36. Maoz Azaryahu, “e Power of Commemorative Street Names,” Environ-
ment and Planning D: Society and Space 14 (1996): 311–30.
37. Quoted in Craig Pittman, “King’s Fight Still in the Streets: Renaming Roads
Incites Controversy,St. Petersburg Times, April 23, 1990, B1.
38. Mitchelson, “e Economic Geography of MLK Streets,” chap. 4.
39. Andrew Charlesworth, “Contesting Places of Memory: e Case of Aus-
chwitz,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 12 (1994): 579–93;
Nuala Johnson, “Cast in Stone: Monuments, Geography, and Nationalism,”
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 13 (1995): 51–65; Owen J.
Dwyer, “Location, Politics, and the Production of Civil Rights Memorial
Landscapes,” Urban Geography 23 (2002): 31–56; Jonathan I. Leib, “Separate
Times, Shared Spaces: Arthur Ashe, Monument Avenue, and the Politics of
Richmond, Virginia’s Symbolic Landscape,” Cultural Geographies 9 (2002):
40. Quoted in Brenda Yarbrough, “Street Honoring King Leads to City Dump,”
Atlanta Constitution, October 30, 1992, A3.
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Naming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr.: No Easy Road • 237
41. Quoted in Derek H. Alderman and Owen J. Dwyer, “Putting Memory in Its
Place: e Politics of Commemoration in the American South,” in World-
Minds: Geographical Perspectives on 100 Problems, ed. D.G. Janelle, B. Warf,
and K. Hansen (Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic, 2004), 55–60, 57.
42. Johnson, “Cast in Stone: Monuments, Geography, and Nationalism,” 51.
43. Tilove, Along Martin Luther King, 122.
44. “Controversy over Renaming Shames Communities,” St. Petersburg Times,
April 22, 1990, 2.
45. Gerald Ensley, “Story of a Street,” Tallahassee Democrat, January 17, 1999, 1A.
46. Tilove, Along Martin Luther King.
47. Stephen G.N. Tuck, Beyond Atlanta: e Struggle for Racial Equality in
Georgia, 1940–1980 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001).
48. Stump, “Toponymic Commemoration of National Figures,” 215.
49. Tilove, Along Martin Luther King.
50. “Street’s Name Switch Riles Portland Residents, Fierce Public Backlash to Ave-
nue Named aer Martin Luther King Jr., Seattle Times, March 4, 1990, D5.
51. Gary A. Fine, “Reputational Entrepreneurs and the Memory of Incompe-
tence: Melting Supporters, Partisan Warriors, and Images of President Har-
ding,” American Journal of Sociology 101 (1996): 1159–93, 1161–62.
52. Peter Scott, “Failure to Name Street to Honor MLK May Bring Boycott,”
Atlanta Journal Constitution, November 28, 1992, B9.
53. Pittman, “King’s Fight Still in the Streets: Renaming Roads Incites Contro-
versy,” B1.
54. Tilove, Along Martin Luther King, 14.
55. Alderman, “Street Names as Memorial Arenas.”
56. “Citizen Comments Sent to City in Reference to Renaming Airport Road,”
2004, City Hall Records, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
57. Michael Eric Dyson, I May Not Get ere with You: e True Martin Luther
King, Jr. (New York: Free Press, 2000), 6.
58. Derek H. Alderman, “Street Names and the Scaling of Memory: e Politics
of Commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. within the African-American
Community,” Area 35 (2003): 163–73.
59. Quoted in Gary Randall, “Balking on 9th Street Termed ‘Asinine,’ ” Chat-
tanooga News-Free Press, April 5, 1981, A1.
60. Quoted in Christina Headrick, “NAACP Wants Martin Luther King Jr. Ave-
nue Moved,” St. Petersburg Times, August 31, 2001, 7.
61. Derek H. Alderman, “A Street Fit for a King: Naming Places and Commemo-
ration in the American South,” Professional Geographer 52 (2000): 672–84.
62. Mitchelson, “e Economic Geography of MLK Streets,” chap. 7.
63. Joseph H. Brown, “What’s in a Street Name? Ask Zephyrhills,” Tampa Tri-
bune, May 2, 2004, 6.
64. Mitchelson, “e Economic Geography of MLK Streets,” 108.
65. Brian Blauner, “Talking Past Each Other: Black and White Languages of
Race,” in Race and Ethnic Conict, ed. F.L. Pincus and H.J. Ehrlich (Boulder,
CO: Westview, 1994), 18–28, 20.
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238 • Landscape and Race in the United States
66. Bobby M. Wilson, Race and Place in Birmingham: e Civil Rights and
Neighborhood Movements (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littleeld, 2000).
67. Quoted in Michael McBride, “Ed’s Warehouse Shutting Down,” Star Press,
October 21, 2004,
68. Quoted in Wilcox, “Unity Asked in Street Name Change,” B1.
69. Alderman, “Street Names and the Scaling of Memory.”
70. Tilove, Along Martin Luther King, 21.
RT4102.indb 238 2/13/06 2:12:10 PM
... These name changes reflect an effort to create a place identity and image that can assist in reconstructing and enhancing the group identity of African Americans and giving a material tangibility and permanence to that refashioned identity on the landscape. By naming landscapes in ways that talk about the historical importance of minorities, African Americans seek to change the way they are valued in the present and, in turn, the future (Alderman 2006). Street names have proven to be a popular battleground for these struggles for legitimacy because of the way they permeate our daily vocabulary-both verbal and visual. ...
... Like an athlete stretching a muscle that the lactase toxins might drain into the blood, that the poison might be recycled for its uses; the excess is expunged in the sweat of the effort. " Whites, " Alderman (2006) notes, " locate racism in color consciousness and its absence in color blindness " (231). Another way to say this is that the untold stories of the ways in which overt (and implicit) racism have coloured my unconscious taken-for-granted whiteness thrive on their own absence within the discourse of my family, my life. ...
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The research is framed around stories—counternarratives in the tradition of Critical Race Theory (CRT)—of the author coming to know his own historical racism as rooted in his geographical, political, racial, classed and religious upbringing in Chicago, United States. The paper specifically attends to the socioeconomic and religious aspects of race as defined and constrained by a place run through with its own racial historical leavings. As such, the work can be read as one continuous journey, or two very fractured versions of coming to know (the self and the boundaries around two fields of inquiry). The purpose is twofold: to explore the ways in which the disciplinary boundaries of two fields, CRT and Critical Geography, can inform a critical contextualisation of race and place for the author and the reader.
... These name changes reflect an effort to create a place identity and image that can assist in reconstructing and enhancing the group identity of African Americans and giving a material tangibility and permanence to that refashioned identity on the landscape. By naming landscapes in ways that talk about the historical importance of minorities, African Americans seek to change the way they are valued in the present and, in turn, the future (Alderman 2006). Street names have proven to be a popular battleground for these struggles for legitimacy because of the way they permeate our daily vocabulary-both verbal and visual. ...
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Although the critical turn in place name study recognizes the central and contested place that toponyms hold in people's lives and identity struggles, little work has explicitly analyzed place naming rights in terms of social justice, citizenship, and belonging. We introduce readers to the naming of streets for slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr and use two brief case studies from the southeastern USA (Statesboro, Georgia and Greenville, North Carolina) to discuss the barriers that hinder the creation of a landscape that truly reflects the teachings of King. Naming opponents, sometimes with the (un)witting cooperation of black activists, impose spatial, scalar limits on the rights of African Americans to participate in the street naming process and to appropriate the identity of streets outside of their neighborhoods, even though challenging historically entrenched patterns of racial segregation and marginalization is exactly the purpose of many street naming campaigns. The case of King streets prompts us to think about place naming as a mechanism of spatial (in)justice, demonstrating the fundamental role that geography plays in constituting and structuring the processes of discrimination or equality.
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In their presence and continued use as seat of government, the Union Buildings in Pretoria reveal the persistence of the past in a prime space of power and official commemoration in South Africa. The paper focuses on the retention of these segregation-era buildings as the "top" site of government in the context of Tshwane, or Pretoria, in the democratic era from 1994. The paper traces events and actions through several periods since the Buildings were conceived in 1909, to and beyond the inauguration of President Mandela at the site. Some alternative views on continued use of the buildings are explored. The argument of the paper is that urban collective memory in which monuments such as the Union Buildings stand, is constantly remade, and the meanings ascribed to the images evoked by such an edifice shift into sometimes radically different directions from those held in earlier periods.
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This research note focuses on tourism to heritage sites with a controversial history and sites associated with death, disaster, and the macabre. Several new concepts and research directions have emerged in the study of such sites. Particular attention is given to the dark tourism and thanatourism approaches as well as to an analysis of dissonance in the management of heritage sites. Further, changes at places with a shadowed past are examined in the context of a revived geography of memory. There is a continued interest of the traveling public in revisiting war and peace memorials. In the final part of the research note examples of a new perspective on places of pain and shame are introduced.
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Academic geographers have a long history of studying both tourism and place names, but have rarely made linkages between the two. Within critical toponymic studies there is increasing debate about the commodification of place names, but to date the role of tourism in this process has been almost completely overlooked. In some circumstances, toponyms can become tourist sights based on their extraordinary properties, their broader associations within popular culture, or their role as metanyms for some other aspect of a place. Place names may be sights in their own right or ‘markers’ of a sight and, in some cases, the marker may be more significant than the sight to which it refers. The appropriation of place names through tourism also includes the production and consumption of a broad range of souvenirs based on reproductions or replicas of the material signage that denote place names. Place names as attractions are also associated with a range of performances by tourists, and in some cases visiting a place name can be a significant expression of fandom. In some circumstances, place names can be embraced and promoted by tourism marketing strategies and are, in turn, drawn into broader circuits of the production and consumption of tourist space.
From Ben Jonson to Thomas Carlyle, from the Modern Language Association of America to the British Tourist Authority, there were and there are enthusiastic testimonies to Shakespeare's greatness, to what his oeuvre means to the inhabitants of the ‘precious stone set in the silver sea’ and the world at large. Only recently, at the turn of the century, listeners of BBC's Radio 4 voted him Man of the Millennium . On that occasion, Shakespeare ousted dignitaries like Winston Churchill and Isaac Newton, who all play leading roles in British history, from their position of power. The playwright is dearest to the memory of his countrymen. He occupies the most prominent place in the national portrait gallery, if the witnesses cited above are accepted. There are some, however, who apparently beg to differ. Their dissenting voices were discovered in the context of cultural memory studies and a concomitant attempt to introduce EFL students to some of the core elements of British collective memory.
Sex and race have significantly affected the trajectories of Brazil's historical geographies and its contemporary racialized relations. Interpretations of gender, race, and color in Brazil have produced distinct racialized relations and diverse color categories in contrast to the rigid binary racial categories (i.e., black–white) traditionally used in the United States. In Brazil, racialized relations have traditionally remained cordial, giving life to the so-called myth of racial democracy, and were not shaped by formal legal boundaries as in the United States; however, racialized relations in Brazil were forged by deeply embedded informal borders—physical and sociocultural—coupled with historical processes, which continue to appear in today's data on social inequality.
In 1968, there were over 30 protests on college campuses involving African American athletes who used sport as their platform to highlight racial inequities on their campus and in the United States. In the years that followed, over 70 other campuses were rocked with similar protests resulting in African American athletes being removed from teams, coaches losing their positions, as well as advances in racial issues on campus, such as the creation of Black Studies programs and the hiring of Black assistant coaches (Edwards, 1969; Wiggins, 1992). Many of these events that were the cause of great controversy at the time have experienced shifts in how they are remembered in the present. For example, 1968 Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos were ridiculed and suffered for years after their Black Power gesture during the national anthem as they stood on the medal stand in Mexico City. Forty years later, both have been awarded honorary doctorates from their alma mater, San Jose State University, there is a statue of the two men on the San Jose State campus, and recently the two men were awarded the ESPY Humanitarian award. The ways the public reads and remembers this event have shifted dramatically over the last 40 years since the initial event (Bass, 2002; Hartmann, 2003; Smith, 2009).
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The past remains a passionately contested terrain in the American South. On the one hand, the memory of the Civil War is of vital importance in the region. Many white Southerners identify with romanticized images of the Confederacy (Hoelscher 2003). Alternately, a new historical vision of the region’s past has emerged, one that challenges the centrality of the Confederacy. Propelled largely by African Americans, this challenge is embodied in the public commemoration of the Civil Rights Movement (Alderman 2000; Dwyer 2000). The intersection of these two competing memorial narratives has made collective memory a highly charged issue in the South, one whose emotional gravity comes from the interweaving of place and history (Figure 10.1) (Lowenthal 1975; Hayden 1995; Leib 2002). There is a need to make sense of the problematic nature of southern commemoration, particularly since these debates affect the prospects of building an inclusive culture in the region (Brundage 2000).
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Produced over the past decade, monuments and museums dedicated to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s have desegregated America's memorial landscape. Tracing a broad are across the US South, the material elements of this landscape-historic markers, monuments, parks, registered buildings, and museums-present a distinct challenge to representations of an elite, white American past. This challenge, however, is offered in a distinctly gendered manner, inasmuch as the role of women in organizing and lending the movement is obscured. Further, the historical narratives concretized at these sites are mediated by conventions associated with civil rights historiography and the tourism development industry The result is a complex, sometimes ironic landscape. Via the narratives they embed and the crowds they attract, these landscapes are co-constitutive with contemporary politics of representing the past in the United States. This paper offers an overview of current memorial practices and representations of the Civil Rights movement found at the country's major memorial landscapes.
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The (re)naming of streets in honor of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. is quickly becoming a common yet controversial feature on the southern urban landscape. This new trend in place-naming reflects efforts by African Americans to create a new geography of memory in a region where much of its landscape has long been used and reserved for remembering (and memorializing) primarily white-controlled and dominated conceptions of the past. This paper articulates a theoretical framework for understanding the struggles that local African-American communities face in the street-(re)naming process. The controversy surrounding MLK street (re)naming can be analyzed in relation to three interrelated struggles: (1) the politics of place-naming, the struggle of African Americans to inscribe their ideological values and aspirations about race relations into the symbolism of place-names; (2) the politics of memory, the struggle of African Americans to reconstruct the region's collective memory of the past through commemoration; and (3) the politics of space and scale, the struggle of African Americans to engage in commemoration of King as it is affected by the long-standing authority of whites to control the scale of black expression and mobilization, black attitudes toward space, and the politics of designing the city. This paper attempts to build a greater understanding of how geography constitutes and structures the production of memory within society.
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The naming of streets after Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) is an importantarena for African Americans as they rewrite the landscape of southern identity and commemoration. While less ornate and ostentatious than museums and monuments, MLK streets are powerful and highly contested cultural geographies because of their potential to connect disparate communities and incorporate a vision of the past into the spatial practices of everyday life. They reveal the importance of location, particularly intra-urban location, to public memorialization. Naming streets for King is a significant part of the nonmetropolitan South as well as larger cities and dependent upon the relative size of a city's African-American population. When estimating the intra-urban character of MLK streets within several southern states, findings suggest that they are located in census areas that are generally poorer and with more African Americans than citywide averages. Analysis reveals a geographic unevenness in the frequency of businesses having an address identified with King. When compared with the stereotypical American thoroughfare of “Main” Street, the address composition of MLK streets appears to be more residential in nature, although there is significant state by state variation.
This book reveals the distribution of transportation benefits to the wealthy and educated to be disproportionately high compared to people of colour and those at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. Essays by a wide range of environmental and transportation activists, lawyers, and scholars trace the historical roots of transportation struggles in United States civil rights history from Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders to modern-day unjust transportation equity are examined, as well as the impact of transportation policy on inner city environments
Abstract This paper deals with the symbolic role of place-names as expressions of ideological values. Names are symbolic elements of landscape that reflect abstract or concrete national and local sentiments and goals. In the case of Israel, the selection of place-names has become a powerful tool for reinforcing competing national Zionist ideologies. Implicit in this competition are two major Israeli place-name themes: the message of essentialism or continuity, and epochalism or change. Essentialism is expressed in Hebrew placenames and in a variety of other symbols that project Israel as the sole heir to the Holy Land. In this context, Biblical and Talmudic place-names are reintroduced or reinforce the bonds between the Jewish community in Israel and the land, as emphasized by the Likud party when in power, in alliance with the orthodox religious wing and nationalist parties of the extreme right. Epochalism is expressed through place-names that reflect modern Zionist settlement values and military heroes, or the renewed interaction of Jews with their land through identification with nature. This was the approach of the founders of the State of Israel; it continued while the Labor party was in power, and is likely to be reintroduced with Labor's return to power. We explore the process of naming places as a mechanism for landscape transformation in the territories captured by Israel in the Six Days War of 1967—the Golan, Gaza, and the West Bank. In these regions, the conflict between Jewish and Palestinian/Arab national symbols is most prominent, and the differences within the two Zionist camps over the future relationship of the Territories to the State of Israel are most pronounced.