We ‘racially profile’ streets named after MLK:
Melvin White, founder of the Beloved Streets of America project, walks past crumbling building during a tour of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in St. Louis. The nonprofit is working to revitalize a downtrodden six-mile stretch of the drive named for the slain civil rights leader, marked by vacant lots, crumbling buildings and a preponderance of liquor stores, pawn shops and check-cashing businesses…
Nearly three decades into the observance of Monday’s federal holiday, the continuing decline of the most visible symbols of King’s work has White and others calling for a renewed commitment to the more than 900 streets nationwide named in the Atlanta native’s honor.
Locally, the stark racial split of the east-west thoroughfare — largely white and affluent to the south, mostly poor and black to the north — is referred to as the “Delmar Divide.” Journalist Jonathan Tilove, who wrote a 2003 book based on visits to 650 King streets nationwide, called the King byways “black America’s Main Street.”
“Map them and you map a nation within a nation, a place where white America seldom goes and black America can be itself,” he wrote. “It is a parallel universe with a different center of gravity and distinctive sensibilities. … There is no other street like it.”
But while streets named for King undoubtedly resonate widely in the black community, a University of Tennessee geography professor whose research explores the cultural and political significance of such streets said the compromised condition of streets named for King in St. Louis and other cities deserves broader attention.
“In some ways we racially profile these streets,” said Derek Alderman, author of a 2007 study that found a smaller disparity among MLK-named streets and other “main streets” than is popularly portrayed. “We need to move beyond those images and see what concrete lives and realities are living on those streets.”