- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Vietnamese noodle shops and video stores line the road in one neighborhood, while a few miles along, the smell of Mexican sweet bread fills the air.

For almost 30 years, former San Jose police Officer Ken Stewart patrolled this 4.5-mile stretch, with side streets that include a Little Portugal district and black churches.

To him, the area symbolizes San Jose’s diversity and would be the perfect place for a street named after Martin Luther King. But his idea has triggered a fierce debate, with proponents claiming they want to honor all racial groups and others saying they want preserve ethnic pride.

Actually, the street already is called King Road. Not for King the civil rights leader, but for Andrew King, a Virginia native who settled on 95 acres in 1851. Mr. Stewart wants the city to change the name to “Martin Luther King, Jr. Road.”

The City Council is expected to vote on Mr. Stewart’s proposal in December. But the matter has already has exposed a rift in San Jose. Some Hispanics oppose changing the name of King Road, which runs through the heart of one of the city’s Latino neighborhoods.

“Most of us have the utmost respect for Martin Luther King, but this particular place has its own history,” said Carlos Diaz, 40, who has lived within a mile of King and Story roads for most of his life. Many Hispanics feel attached to that intersection, where the sounds of mariachi music fill a shopping center on one corner.

But Mr. Stewart, who is black, said the name change wouldn’t take anything away from the area’s Hispanic heritage.

“We’re trying to enhance the area with a great man’s name. … Tens of thousands of people travel along King Road,” Mr. Stewart said after a tense public meeting recently.

Across the nation, more than 660 streets are named after King, said Derek Alderman, a cultural geographer at East Carolina University. The renaming process began soon after King’s slaying in 1968 and, as in San Jose, has often been fraught with conflict.

Sometimes it has pitted blacks against whites. Other times blacks disagreed with blacks on how and where to honor King’s legacy.


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