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Street names and the scaling of memory: the politics of commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr within the African American community

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Abstract:

Streets named for Martin Luther King, Jr are common yet controversial features in cities across the United States. This paper analyses the politics of naming these streets as a ‘scaling of memory’– a socially contested process of determining the geographic extent to which the civil rights leader should be memorialized. Debates over the scaling of King's memory revolve around the size of the named street, the street's level of prominence within a hierarchy of roads, and the degree to which the street transcends the spatial confines of the black community. A street-naming struggle in Eatonton, Georgia (USA) exposes how the scaling of memory can become a point of division and contest within the black community as activists seek to fulfil different political goals. Analysing these intra-racial contests allows for a fuller appreciation of the historical consciousness and geographic agency of African Americans rather than seeing them as a single, monolithic group.

Keywords: African American; Martin Luther King, commemoration; United States; scale; street naming

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1475-4762.00250

Affiliations: Department of Geography, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858, USA, Email: aldermand@mail.ecu.edu

Publication date: June 1, 2003

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