Forty-four years ago civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Now nearly half a century later, the city of Memphis will finally rename the one-mile stretch of Linden Avenue to Dr. M.L. King Jr. on the anniversary, April 4, of his brutal murder, reports CNN.
Streets named after the slain leader can be found across the country. The prestigious honor has even taken place in foreign countries like Italy, who honored King by renaming streets after him in no less than 10 cities. According to MLKStreet.com, as of two years ago, there are 893 places that have roadways memorializing King in 40 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Although honoring King by way of renaming thoroughfares has taken place across the United States, the main concentration of these are located mostly in the southeast with more than 75 percent located in 10 southern states.
Yet not even in the entire state of Tennessee, much less in the city where King was brutally murdered, is there one street dedicated to his memory.
According to former Memphis City Councilman Berlin Boyd, who helped lead the street-naming effort in Memphis, “We never wanted to address losing Dr. King’s life here,” he told CNN.
Commemorative movements are usually spearheaded by Blacks and the renaming of streets have oftentimes been a controversial process that has been met with significant public opposition. The inscription of King’s legacy on to streets and the controversy that has surrounded it on numerous occasions has led to the placement of his name on minor streets or portions of roadways that are primarily populated by Blacks.
Journalist Jonathan Trilove in his book “Black America’s Main Streets” talks about how Dr. Martin Luther King streets serve as points of pride and struggle, yet finding the most appropriate thoroughfare is oftentimes accompanied by the difficulty of convincing Whites that King’s impact and legacy is an inspirational one that provided a coalition of conscience all across the board.
The very busy downtown Linden Avenue, home of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, was selected for the renaming because King marched there in support of sanitation workers. “He marched along this street; we wanted something that had a real nexus to this city,” said Mayor A.C. Wharton to CNN.
Further down the line, there are plans to name up to 5 miles of Linden Avenue for Dr. King.
On that fateful day, April 4, 1968, when James Earl Ray aimed his rifle and mortally wounded Dr. King, the Rev. Jesse Jackson was with him. Rev. Jackson told CNN that the murder left the city of Memphis with a deep sense of guilt and pain. Yet, he laments, that the city “could do more to memorialize Dr. King’s legacy.”