A Street Fit for a King: Naming Places and Commemoration in the American South

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Abstract:

The naming of streets after Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) is an importantarena for African Americans as they rewrite the landscape of southern identity and commemoration. While less ornate and ostentatious than museums and monuments, MLK streets are powerful and highly contested cultural geographies because of their potential to connect disparate communities and incorporate a vision of the past into the spatial practices of everyday life. They reveal the importance of location, particularly intra-urban location, to public memorialization. Naming streets for King is a significant part of the nonmetropolitan South as well as larger cities and dependent upon the relative size of a city's African-American population. When estimating the intra-urban character of MLK streets within several southern states, findings suggest that they are located in census areas that are generally poorer and with more African Americans than citywide averages. Analysis reveals a geographic unevenness in the frequency of businesses having an address identified with King. When compared with the stereotypical American thoroughfare of “Main” Street, the address composition of MLK streets appears to be more residential in nature, although there is significant state by state variation.

Keywords: American South; Martin Luther King; commemoration; street naming

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/0033-0124.00256

Affiliations: East Carolina University

Publication date: November 1, 2000

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