Thursday, January 18, 2007

Changing position on MLK

Jonathan Tilove writes to let me know about a recent story of his on the continuing saga of MLK road naming. "Despite stereotypes, MLK streets are economically vibrant," he reports in a story that centers on New Bern, N.C. New Bern's primary commercial street was named for King in 2000--and ever since, it has "flourished."

The picture is not so rosy in nearby Greenville. Since 1998 the racial divide in this city has been enshrined in the name of a single street, a street that's called Martin Luther King Jr. Drive up until the point that it leaves the black neighborhoods and enters the whiter, wealthier precincts of East Carolina University, where it remains Fifth Street. What happened last year I did not know:

Last year, the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and others pressed to name all of Fifth for King. Instead, the City Council's white majority voted to name a new bypass for King and remove his name from all of Fifth.

The Council would sooner take the name away from the black community than extend it into the white.

Other subtle changes of position are revealed in Tilove's story. In Chatanooga, Tennessee, a white developer faced with having to change the address of his building to MLK simply "gave his building its own address--Union Square." A nearby hotel "executed a familiar sidestep, switching its address to reflect its side street instead of King."

One business owner that I know of in Chapel Hill changed his address to that of the side street rather than suffer the change from Airport Road to MLK.

Then on the other hand, Town Hall changed its address from North Columbia Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, becoming one of some 590 government offices nationwide on MLK.

Cornel West is not one to change his position on MLK. He made a rousing, riveting speech at Memorial Hall last night as the university's MLK Week speaker. Paul gets to the essence of it. I don't know if it was videotaped. But you can see similar themes in a video of a talk he gave at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro last year.

No comments: