[Marxism] Racial Economics of Renaming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Mon May 10 10:12:11 MDT 2004


The City Council of Zephyrhills, Florida renamed a street to honor 
Martin Luther King, Jr. on October 26, 2003, but it reversed the 
decision and removed his name on April 26, 2004, caving in to white 
protests.  The Council earned a white supremacist website's praise. 
White protestors argued that "they did not want the bother of 
changing their addresses" and "[a] business owner told local 
newspapers that <em>property values</em> would fall, saying streets 
named after Dr. King were <em>a guarantee of economic blight</em>" 
(Abby Goodnough, "Honor for Dr. King Splits Florida City, and Faces 
Reversal," <em>New York Times,</em> <a 
href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/10/national/10MLK.html">May 10, 
2004</a>).  This is a small episode that can illustrate a larger 
issue of how oppressions based upon race and class mutually reinforce 
each other:
<blockquote><a 
href="http://www.ecu.edu/geog/people/faculty/derek_alderman/derek_alderman.html 
">Derek Alderman,</a> a geography professor at East Carolina 
University who has studied the politics of naming streets for Dr. 
King, said at least 650 streets have been given his name in at least 
41 states, often not without controversy.

Most of the streets are in the South, in places where the population 
is at least 30 percent black. Georgia, Dr. King's birthplace, has the 
most, Dr. Alderman said. Many run mostly through black neighborhoods, 
he said, often because efforts to name a central thoroughfare for Dr. 
King fail.

"The second choices are often not the most prominent, the most 
healthy streets," Dr. Alderman said.

San Diego's decision to rename a major thoroughfare, Market Street, 
for Dr. King in 1986 was so unpopular that residents got an 
initiative on the ballot a year later to change the name back, and 
won. And in 1979, the Alabama Legislature repealed a 1976 resolution 
naming a section of an Interstate highway after Dr. King.

But far more common, Dr. Alderman said, is for a city to scrap 
contentious plans to rename a street well before new signs go up. 
That happened last year in Muncie, Ind., and more recently in 
Portsmouth, N.H., which decided to name a park for Dr. King instead. 
(Goodnough, <a 
href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/10/national/10MLK.html">May 10, 
2004</a>)</blockquote>In other words, racism runs in a vicious 
circle: slavery, Jim Crow, and continuing discrimination have made 
Black communities disproportionately poor; racists do not let Black 
communities claim major streets and highways to honor King or other 
Black leaders on the left; therefore, most of the streets named after 
King are located in predominantly Black neighborhoods, economically 
poorer than predominantly white neighborhoods; then, racists exploit 
this fact to allege that naming a street after King brings down 
"property values," ideologically reversing cause and effect!

Derek Alderman made some of his publications available to public <a 
href="http://personal.ecu.edu/aldermand/article_reprints.html 
">online</a> -- I encourage you to check them out:
<li>"A Street Fit for a King: Naming Places and Commemoration in the 
American South," <em>Professional Geographer</em> 52.4 <a 
href="http://personal.ecu.edu/aldermand/aldermanpg2000.pdf">(2002)</a>: 
672-684.</li>
<li>"Street Names as Memorial Arenas: The Reputational Politics of 
Commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. in a Georgia County," 
<em>Historical Geography</em> 30 <a 
href="http://personal.ecu.edu/aldermand/alderman_final.pdf 
">(2002)</a>: 99-120.</li>
<li>"Street Names and the Scaling of Memory: the Politics of 
Commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr within the African-American 
Community," <em>Area</em> 35.2 <a 
href="http://personal.ecu.edu/aldermand/mlkarea2003.pdf">(2003)</a>: 
163-173.</li>
-- 
Yoshie

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