Gray unveils ‘MLK Drive’ in D.C., cancels statehood march

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Mayor Vincent C. Gray unveiled street signs designating “Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive” on Thursday, hours before Hurricane Irene disrupted his plans to tout D.C. statehood and voting rights in a march framed from the spirit of the late civil rights leader.

Mr. Gray and D.C. Council member Marion Barry said Thursday morning they were undeterred by the inclement forecast ahead of the Saturday morning rally and the planned dedication Sunday of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial.

Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, noted the protesters of the 1960s would not have been deterred by wind and rain.

“If they stopped then, we wouldn’t be here now,” Mr. Barry said.

But hours later, officials announced the dedication would be postponed indefinitely.

Just after midnight, the mayor’s office also announced the cancellation of Saturday’s march from Freedom Plaza to a site near the memorial in a call for full D.C. voting rights and statehood.

Mr. Gray said Thursday night before the cancellation was announced that he planned to “continue with the march on Saturday” but had left open the possibility that it could be postponed, depending on the weather.

“We know we’re in for the long haul,” he said, noting that the struggle for statehood would continue even if the march was postponed.

The mayor had touted the march, organized by the advocacy group DC Vote and the MLK Memorial DC Host Committee, as an opportunity to educate about 250,000 visitors on the District’s lack of full autonomy. He said King himself highlighted the lack of basic rights for D.C. residents during a speech in 1965.

Meanwhile, memorial foundation CEO Harry Johnson joined D.C. dignitaries at 14th Street and Maine Avenue Southwest to unveil the ceremonial street signs that will mark Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.

The route starts at Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue in Southeast and extends across the 11th Street Bridge to Southeast-Southwest Freeway and sections of Maine and Independence avenues.

Officials at Thursday’s unveiling had to compete with the noise of trains and freeway traffic from nearby overpasses at a location outside the control of the National Park Service.

The D.C. Council approved the street signs in July, but Mr. Gray said the Congress would have to approve designations on federal parklands that are closer to the memorial.

When a reporter asked why the city did not defy federal rules in the spirit of King’s efforts, the mayor said they wanted “to do this in a cooperative spirit.”

“If it were up to me, I’d have done it,” Mr. Barry said. “It’s not up to me.”

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