In Hobson City, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive paves a path through that historic town that serves as Calhoun County’s link to Alabama’s African-American past.
In Anniston, the attractive Zinn Park pavilion that carries MLK’s name is a well-used and prominent site that sits not far from the West 15th Street district that once was a vibrant, bustling hub of black life in The Model City.
Count those as two of the thousands of streets, monuments, plaques and other brick-and-mortar American sites that bear his name. They became newsworthy last week because one of the epicenters of MLK history — Memphis — is moving forward with plans to name one of its downtown streets after the slain civil rights leader.
Others can debate the oddity — or supreme disappointment — that the city where MLK was assassinated had not already joined the nearly 900 American cities that have honored King in this manner.
This page would rather concentrate on the larger issue: the eternal need to push MLK’s efforts on racial equality, economic justice and a quest for peace. In that sense, MLK and the day that honors him are about more than which street or which building should carry the King name.
The simple questions resonate: Is America today a nation where equality is valued? Are we raising the next generation to see people’s souls and not their color? Are we ensuring that the United States is a nation where racism is universally and wholeheartedly denounced?
To each of those questions, the answer isn’t as affirmative as it should be. Sadly, work remains. That Alabama’s mean-spirited illegal-immigration law is based with undeniable racial overtones is proof enough: King’s work isn’t finished.
Nevertheless, we understand why historians are interested with the existence of so many streets and structures named after MLK. Derek Alderman, a professor at East Carolina University, has found that a high percentage of MLK-themed streets are in the South. Georgia has the most. Alabama is in the top five. States such as Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas and Vermont have none. His research also shows that there are more MLK streets in towns with less than 10,000 residents than there are in larger cities.
Yet, the professor also points out what’s long been noticed — that a large number of U.S. streets named after MLK are in predominantly black neighborhoods or areas of high poverty.
With that, we ask: Why doesn’t Anniston have one of its larger streets that cut through neighborhoods with both black and white residents named after MLK?
As Alderman has written, “Streets named after King illustrate the important yet contentious ways in which race, place and memory intersect through the American landscape.”
With that, we’ll leave historians the task of studying MLK commemoration and urge all to reach for King’s higher calling of equality for all.