01 Jan 1998 A Street Named Martin Luther King, by Kimberley Wilson
Recently my husband and I were sightseeing in a large urban city. I misread the map and, instead of arriving at the wax museum, we found ourselves headed for the Martin Luther King Memorial Bridge.
“Hon, we better turn around. We’re about to get in trouble,” I announced. My husband quickly reminded me that, except in action adventure-movies, it’s mighty difficult (not to mention illegal) to make a U-turn on a bridge. There was no turning back. As we expected the MLK bridge led to a poverty pocket. Actually, that’s too nice an expression for what awaited us. The place was a plain old fashioned slum. We saw run-down houses, trash everywhere and plenty of graffiti. Although it was in the middle of the week, there were hordes of men and boys standing around drinking and gambling in broad daylight.
Within seconds after we stopped at the first traffic light, a small group of teenage boys similarly dressed with matching colored rags on their heads approached our car. We quickly realized that this wasn’t the welcoming committee. My husband snapped “Hold on, we’re outta here!” and proceeded to make a U-turn that would have made Dirty Harry proud. I’m convinced my husband saved us from what could have been an incident worthy of the local news.
My husband and I didn’t end up as victims because we knew full well what to expect. Why? Because we were on the MLK bridge. All across Black America, there are Martin Luther King streets, avenues, drives and boulevards and each has one major thing in common with this MLK bridge: they all lead to the most crime-ridden parts of town. What is also shocking are the number of schools named after Dr. King that have metal-detectors, cops, birth control centers and gang containment programs–not to mention tragically low test scores.
How on earth did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s. name become so attached to the absolute worst in our communities? Well, back in the late 70’s and into the early 80’s, urban mayors and city councils across this land decided to throw a bone to the Black community by naming something in town after the late Reverend. Sadly, blacks were so impressed by this symbolic gesture that no one stopped to question why Martin Luther King’s name seemed to be slapped only on problem areas.
Does Black America remember that Martin Luther King, Jr. was raised in a staunchly conservative and deeply religious home on a quiet middle-class street? Has Black America forgotten the ambitious young striver who was admitted early to Moorehouse College? Surely someone recalls that Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream of equality and the hope that one day Blacks could finally be allowed to take their place on the forefront of the American scene? Why isn’t Black America outraged that his name is attached to the crime-ridden ghettoes and schools where no one is learning? What kind of tribute is this to Dr. King’s legacy?
It’s a backhand insult to me.
Somewhere, a retired councilman or former mayor is cruising down their city streets when he sees the sign for Martin Luther King Avenue and turns his car the other way and laughs. The joke is sour one, and it’s on us. Does Black America know that?
(Kimberley Wilson is a conservative writer and commentator, and a member of the African-American leadership group Project 21.)