January 31, 2006

City May Rename Street for Dr. King

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Hundreds of local businesses and individuals, including landmarks such as the State Theatre and the State Diner, may find themselves ordering new address labels if the city approves a petition filed last month to change State Street to Martin Luther King, Jr. Street.

About 130 people attended a public forum last night held by the Board of Public Works to solicit public comments about the name change. Over 50 people spoke at the two hour-long meeting, including business owners, State Street residents, college students and government officials.

Many supporters of the change said that naming State Street after the civil rights leader would bring his struggle and message to the fore in people’s everyday lives.

“To me, it would be a wonderful addition to being a citizen, a resident and being a teacher or parent type, to be able to have a Martin Luther King sign on every block of what is now State Street,” said John Hamilton, who is on the board of directors of a State Street business.

But while nearly every speaker expressed great respect and admiration for the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., many felt that lending his name to State Street would not be an appropriate way to honor his legacy.

Mary Tomlan M.A. ’71, one of the Third Ward representatives to the Common Council, said that State Street in particular would be inappropriate for the name.

“Among the most consistent constituent concerns have been with regard to State Street,” Tomlan said. “Several of these have been with regard to the naming recently, but most have been with regard to noise pollution due to trucks’ breaking systems, manhole covers, potholes, speed, traffic and congestion. … I do not believe that Dr. King’s name will calm traffic and noise on State Street, nor do I believe that discussions about manhole covers and paving will honor his memory.”

Others opposed the change because of the financial strain it would put on the many businesses located on State Street. Several business owners came forward to say that the name would require a lengthy and costly switch, as labels, advertisements and brochures would have to be reprinted and redistributed.

Many of those against changing State Street’s name suggested alternatives such as naming a bridge, public building or park after King.

“A park after Dr. King is a place to gather, to organize. We can turn it into a tradition. We could have students, every year on MLK day, get there – people from every grade can recite something from one of his speeches, from one of his articles. It’s a place we can achieve his debate. It’s not something that would just be, ‘let’s just rename this street, hope it inspires the masses and let it go,'” said Ian Schachner MILR ’04.

Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson, who chairs the BPW, said after the forum that reaching a decision on the matter would take the board months. She added that she would consider alternatives to honoring King other than renaming State Street, but that she personally had not reached any conclusions yet.

In addition to the comments from the forum, Peterson said the BPW received about 100 letters on the name change. She estimated that 80 percent of these, many of which came from businesses on the street, were against the change.

The petition for the renaming, signed by 1228 individuals and 48 businesses, was filed on Dec. 7 by Gino Bush on behalf of the Friends of the Circle of Recovery, a group formed from a high school class he taught. The idea for the name change came out of that class, in which a diverse student body decided they wanted to take some action to address racial and other inequality issues.

Archived article by Yuval Shavit
Sun City Editor