What’s in a name?
If that name happens to be Martin Luther King Jr., there’s much that we acknowledge and much we don’t.
In the legislation Ronald Reagan signed in 1983 to establish the holiday, it represents uniqueness as the only federal holiday honoring such a U.S.-born black man.
In neighborhoods across America, MLK represents a line of demarcation — much like the Mason-Dixon line, a Colonial-era demarcation that also came to distinguish Dixie from Northeastern abolition-favoring states.
Today, if MLK would have indeed turned 85 on Jan. 15, his actual birthday, he could see that streets named in his honor clearly represent a different distinction.
Whether marking his legacy as a street, avenue, road, drive or boulevard, they share a common thread: urban despair.
In Miami, MLK Boulevard runs from Little Havana into mostly black Liberty City and straight into Little Haiti.
While bilingual and trilingual speakers reflect familiar homeland sights and sounds, the voluntary and de facto segregation speak to what many in King’s era expected — even dreamed — would change because of federal anti-discrimination legislation. Those measures focused on voting rights, housing, education and employment.
The legislative era all but erased such socioeconomic common terms as “ghetto,” but the realities of that keenly political era remain the same.
Look at Chicago, where fear, joblessness, despair and the criminal elements manifest on streets that run cold with the blood of black Chicagoans.
If the bloodletting and black-on-black crime weren’t overwhelming to King, urban plight surely would be on MLK Drive, a 12-mile stretch in one of America’s most progressive city’s, President Obama’s Chicago.
MLK Drive, like MLK Avenue in the District, is a major corridor, and it boasts stately homes, many of which feature historic-looking greystone facades. But urban despair and decay show their faces there, too.
To call economically depressed and unimpressive neighborhoods “ghettos” is ever so passe. Yet developers, politicians and investors know, perhaps instinctively, that when discussion of economic development turns to neighborhoods on or around a street named MLK that another g-word, “gentrification,” represents the flip side of “ghetto.”
In the nation’s capital, MLK Avenue courses through Southeast and Southwest.