Social Question

JLeslie's avatar

Do you think we should get rid of streets named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in America?

Asked by JLeslie (54556points) March 29th, 2013

Don’t get me wrong, I think the man was amazing, and he is to be recognized and celebrated. However, in most communities that street runs through the poor part of town, often it is the dangerous part of town, and also it usually is where the majority of people who live there are black. I feel the street name redlines the area. That it does no favor to minorities to have a street that idenitifes the area as a “black” area.

I wonder if you asked 1,000 white Americas if they would be willing to live off of Martin Luther King Blvd if any would answer yes? Even if a devloper came in and created a beautiful, middle to higher income community. Or, if you ask any American, any race, what they assume about the neighborhood when they see a street named that?

Do you think if we changed the name it would help at all with intergrating the area?

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44 Answers

bookish1's avatar

Interesting question.
But I think the problem is the poverty, not what the poorest area of every town happens to be named.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Silly idea, and it will never ever fly—too much pent-up emotion and now politician would ever support such a proposal. Call it political suicide.

But if we are renaming things, I would suggest dumping Jefferson David Highway in Virginia (head of the confederacy), probably Forrest Lane (Named for Nathaniel bedford Forrest, a lieutenant in the confederacy), George Wallace Avenue (all over Alabama, named for the racist governor), and so on and so forth.

But these will never happen – too much history and politics intertwined.

ragingloli's avatar

Naw. In Germany, we still have streets named after Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg, despite being a capitalist country.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@bkcunningham – yep, finger slipped. I have driven on the Jeff Davis Highway thousands of times.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@JLeslie Excellent question. I have to go look in the mirror to make sure I’m being honest, but I actually hesitated when you asked if I would live on MLK Blvd. And I’m not racist. But something in that got to me a bit. Okay looked in the mirror in the restroom. You can be certain of that ‘cause there was a guy in there taking a dump. Okay, if it was the house I really liked I would do it. But that would be in the back of my mind. I think the way to integrate neighborhoods is to insure economic opportunities are available to everyone. We have a way to go on equality don’t we?

marinelife's avatar

I think this is all in your mind. Do you have those thoughts about places named after Ronald Reagan?

I’m afraid that it is your own racist attitudes that are at fault here not the street names.

This hotel is on Martin Luther King Blvd in Houma LA.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@marinelife You cleared my mind. I’ll stop prejudging based on the name.

jaytkay's avatar

White people should jump in and make proper decisions for the benighted masses who name their streets in a way that makes white people uncomfortable or resentful.

I am being sarcastic in case that isn’t clear

ETpro's avatar

A rows by any other name is yet arose. Row houses aren’t going to transform themselves into mansions either just because we rename the street they front. Leave the names alone and fix the underlying inequity. Much harder to do than slapping up new street signs, but it will actually transform neighborhoods whereas no amount of new names for a street ever will.

ucme's avatar

There’s a street near us entirely populated by police officers, Letsbe Avenue, I would like it to remain that way…just because.

rojo's avatar

Personally, I think that ALL streets should be named after things and never after people.

I admit I am still harboring ill feelings that a street in our town was renamed “George Bush Avenue”. I much preferred the original name “Jersey Street”. It was one of a series including Dexter, Kerry, Suffolk, Shetland, Guernsey and, I believe Angus

ragingloli's avatar

You could paint it over with “Adolf Hitler Street.”

rojo's avatar


Our fauning, sycophantic, city government was brown-nosing to get a presidential library.

I should be glad we don’t have a “Ronnie Reagan Road” and a “Dubya Boulevard” but I guess there was nothing they had that “we” wanted.

gailcalled's avatar

I wonder if you asked 1,000 white Americas if they would be willing to live off of Martin Luther King Blvd if any would answer yes?

I don’t even know how to begin to respond to this.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is just so long! People have started shortening it to MLK, or “milk” which changes the meaning completely. Nothing like a Milk Street or a Milk Elementary in a black neighborhood.

ragingloli's avatar

I also wonder why his parents named him after a raving antisemite.

Plucky's avatar

I would have thought any street named that would be nice. Poverty stricken didn’t enter my mind. But I’m not American.

bkcunningham's avatar

Don’t kill the messenger. There is story after story after story that talks about the issues @JLeslie has brought up.

bookish1's avatar

@bkcunningham, Thanks for sharing those links. On the last one (the website of the cultural geographer,) there is a really interesting map that shows all the cities in the U.S. where there is an MLK street.

augustlan's avatar

Interesting question, and I get your point…but aren’t most of these streets named by the people in the neighborhoods themselves? Imagine how you’d react to being told you couldn’t name a street after a good man you admire. Nothing good will come of that! If it makes some white people uncomfortable, that’s a damn shame, but it’s not the neighborhood’s problem. It’s the problem of the racist who feels that way. I’m still pissed that they renamed National Airport to Regan National.

bookish1's avatar

@augustlan : Me too. I come from a family who still calls it National, haha.

JLeslie's avatar

@marinelife I just moved to St. Pete, FL, and Martin Luther King is one of the main north south streets, rather than being some cross street in some bad part of town. I’m not racist, but MLK Ave usually is in areas mostly populated by black people probably for the very reason @augustlan said, people in the community wanted it. But, I do wonder if white people were in charge politically at the time of the naming, assuming many of these streets were named quite long ago, that some of the white people maybe liked the idea of desginating the areas. Not different than what I talked on a recent Q about that idea that I believe most of Europe and the UN partly voted for Israel to be created after WWII because they liked the idea of the Jews leaving Europe. I don’t think it was purely a selfless act of wanting to help the Jewish People, I think it was mixed with sympathy for what they endured and to some a bonus of an exodus of Jews to Israel.

In my question I imply and mean that I want the areas to be intergrated, so I would hope that shows I am not racist. The areas tend to be impoverished, that to me is the biggest underlying factor, not what race lives where.

I would think it is statistically accurate in most cities that MLK is majority black people living there, I don’t see how it is racist to acknowledge a fact.

As for Ronald Reagan, I am pretty pissed Washington National Airport is now Ronald Reagan. Really really bothers me. It’s not really answering your question, because it is a separate pet peeve of mine that we changed the airport to our capital city from the first President of our nation to another one. I would not care if it was a President I loved, I find it offensive. But, I still use that airport, and would happily use an airport named after Martin Luther King. But, in terms of neighborhoods, I would pause probably about living near Ronald Reagan Blvd. Lots of people around those parts who really liked the guy I would guess. I have kind of had enough of the right wing lately. But, it wouldn’t indicate the area likely had a lot of poverty to me, it would just indicate enough Republicans in the area to push for a street named after him. Unless it is California or DC, those states would be exceptions to any assumptions on my part. They named the FL turnpike for Reagan, that’s fine with me. He was a President after all, I am not trying to say he should not get any honor on roads, buildings. schools, etc.

I don’t understand what your link to the hotel is supposed to mean?

JLeslie's avatar

Correction: I called DC a state and of course it isn’t. Writing too fast.

flutherother's avatar

It isn’t the name of the street that puts people off it is the nature of the street and its environs. That’s what needs changing. There is nothing wrong with the name or the dream the name represents.

JLeslie's avatar

@flutherother Do you make an assumption about a street named after him? About the area?

Everyone: I was thinking about @marinelife‘s link. If you needed to book a hotel and you were unfamiliar with the town, would you blindly book the Wingate on MLK Blvd? Would you worry about the safety of the neighborhood? I think of Wingate as being like Fairfield Inn (I tend to stat at Marriott properties) usually in an OK area, but not always reliable to indicate a very safe neighborhood. Usually they are in a very commercial area. I probaboy, honestly, would not book a hotel on MLK Street if I was unfamiliar with the town.

@Adirondackwannabe You seemed to think @marinelife‘s link to prove we should not have any prejudice about the areas near or on MLK streets. So, you would not think twice about booking that Wingate if you were travelling?

@bkcunningham I forgot to thank you for those links. I was unaware of any movements to rename or move the name to other streets,

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@JLeslie Yes I would. What cleared my head was her mention of Ronald Reagan anything.

JLeslie's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe But, it isn’t the same. The reality of the perception of MLK Blvd is different than Ronald Reagan. For instance, what if they decided to rename the main street that you turn off to your house MLK, would you worry about your property value? I think @bkcunningham‘s link demonstrates well how that is a valid concern for property and business owners. I am not saying it is right or fair, just that I think it is a reality in most places. One of the links also talks about blacks spending money in black businesses, keeping the money in the neighborhoods. I have a black facebook friend that rants about this quite often. Talks about the black community owning their own businesses and building the community up, and I sometimes question him, question if his advice keeps things separate. I believe diversity in communities is the best and more prosperous route for all. But, I also am empathetic to what he wants, his good intentions to inspire the people in his community. Just curious, how diverse is your community? Specifically, how many black people make up your community or city? I’ll assume it is a low number. I recommend going to a few places where the numbers are high. Southern cities. Some of the cities will not fit the stereotype, but in too many I think you will feel uncomfortable in parts of town near that street. I hate it, I hate that I feel that way or that anything like that even exists.

You might remember I grew up around a lot of diversity, I never even thought about this sort of thing growing up, never phased me what color, race, religion, ethnicity someone was. I had no stereotypes really in my head until I was an adult.

To be clear, it has nothing to do with not wanting to be around black people, I am only talking about safety and things like property value.

jaytkay's avatar

Last week we lectured them on their offensive use of the term African-American.

This week we instruct them to be properly ashamed of Dr. King.

You’re welcome, black people.

JLeslie's avatar

@jaytkay Ashamed? No one is saying anything of the sort.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

How about if we improve the streets rather than change the name?

@JLeslie “As for Ronald Reagan, I am pretty pissed Washington National Airport is now Ronald Reagan”

Amen to that! Duh—the airport had already been named after a president. And, conservatives in Congress made that change just to stick it to all the uber-liberals who dominate D.C. and northern Virginia. I should know, seeing that I’m one of them myself.

JLeslie's avatar

@SadieMartinPaul Love the idea of improving the streets and neighborhoods, but it is a long haul.

What about the irony of Reagan deregulating and all the air traffic controllers losing their jobs. An airport of all things. I think Clinton was the one who signed the name change into law. Maybe he knew the senate would get it passed anyway? I didn’t feel like it was the conservatives trying to stick it to liberal DC, but maybe that was in play. I just felt like they worship Reagan and ignore everything else. I heard people say the airport is not named after Pres. Washington, it is named after the city. I mean, you gotta be really stupid to just nod and say, “oh, that makes sense.”

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@JLeslie I have to disagree with you. If I had a choice of equally attractive properties and it was between MLK Blvd and Reagan Blvd King wins hands down. I detest Reagan. I know the conservatives will howl, but I think King was for inclusion and hope. You are right, I grew up in a pure white redneck town but I learned to appreciate diversity in college. How is changing the name of my road going to affect my safety or my property value?

JLeslie's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Changing the name of the road in your town might not change anything because your area is so white. Which goes back to my point, and what is mentioned in @bkcunningham‘s article, that putting MLK street only in black areas causes, or has caused, part of the problem. That man should be revered by all Americans in my opinion. He helped end a horrible, disgraceful time in our country’s history, and his courage was incredible.

Changing the name of the road in a communty that has a large percentage of black people in the area will likely drop the property values. White people will begin to move out afraid of the marketability in the future of their homes.

Living on Ronald Reagan Road does not really imply whether you supported Reagan or not, or even like him. Nor does living on MLK Road indicate you supported MLK or not.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@JLeslie I still don’t understand why the property values would drop, and it could be because of my background in this rural area. But I respect you and your opinion so I’ll think on it a lot and discuss it on Sunday with my family. That’ll give me some real interesting insight. :)

JLeslie's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe I’ll be interested to know how the conversation goes. I hope you come back to the Q and share with us what your family thinks.

I would love to be wrong honestly. If there is data out there that demonstrates I am wrong I would love to see it. Hopefully more people will join the Q and have some examples that contradict my assertions.

Did you read the articles @bkcunningham linked?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@JLeslie I will. I thought through what my family will probably think and I see your point. I’m hoping I’m wrong, but I suspect otherwise.I looked at the articles.

serenade's avatar

Ours runs in a pretty decent area near the university. Avenida Cesar Chavez on the other hand… them’s just po’ folk.

whitenoise's avatar

I understand your reasoning and you do make a fair point.

I don’t think the answer should be to remove MLK streets. We might want to have some more, in typical ‘richer’ areas as well. MLK is an American hero that shouldn’t be denied.

The true underlying problem is a continuing failure in spreading wealth and opportunity equally amongst various ethnicities. I feel that is the problem we should seriously address. Else whatever name you give the street next will raise the same question in a couple if years.

jaytkay's avatar

The true underlying problem is a continuing failure in spreading wealth and opportunity equally amongst various ethnicities.

The key to spreading wealth and opportunity is education.

If we could provide educations to city kids like the wealthy suburbs, everybody would benefit.

Everybody knows this. The big city mayors, the teachers, the governors, business leaders, the president.

But nobody has figured out how to make it so.

For those of you who want to be the next MLK or Gandhi – schools are your opportunity.

whitenoise's avatar


The answer is with the people. The US are a democracy.

If the people in the US want to improve public education, it can be done. Overnight almost.

The people in the US keep on voting in a right wing anti government fashion and then wonder why government fails.

As soon as any contribution is asked from the better off to help the ‘have-less’ or ’ have-nots’, people cramp into fear of socialism.

JLeslie's avatar

To clarify more, by asking this question I was not saying I think we should get rid of streets named MLK. I was asking the collective what they think about the idea. I was interested in the discussion on the topic, I am not trying to convince anyone we should do it.

@whitenoise I also agree education would make a huge difference. But, I think it is more complicated than just that.

whitenoise's avatar

@JLeslie I agree on the education being only part of it. That was however @jaytkay‘s position, not mine.

I merely reflected on what @jaytkay wrote.

JLeslie's avatar

@whitenoise My mistake. Thanks for correcting me. Somehow when I read the answers I didn’t sort well who said what.

I agree some of the resistance is fear of socialism, others genuinely believe it won’t help. That spreading the wealth just reinforces being unproductive. I don’t see how people think that way about education, to me education should not be lumped in with discussion of welfare, food stamps, or anything of the sort, but I do see how some of our social systems reinforce being on and staying on the social systems. The only way I see out of that is to pay better wages. I prefer it happen without government, but too many people in America feel no internal or external pressure to do such a thing.

Aside from money and education there is also a cultural clash. That is the toughest one to change I think. Takes the most time. I find myself very conflicted regarding the cultural argument. The more I learn and think about it, the more conflicted I get.

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