The report, which recommends approval, notes that Linden Avenue is not named after a real person, so no one will be offended that their family name is being stripped from the downtown avenue. The name honors Under the Linden Trees Boulevard, over which the Brandenburg Gate was built in Berlin, Germany.
Should the proposal pass, Memphis would be added to the long list of cities, both big and small, that honor King with a street name. About 75 percent of the roughly 900 cities are found in 10 Southern states, with Georgia leading the way, said Derek Alderman, an East Carolina University geography professor who penned a 2006 study, "Naming Streets for Martin Luther King Jr.: No Easy Road."
Next in line are Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana and Alabama.
Alderman says cities have endured heated debates over naming streets after King: A common dispute centers on whether to select a street that is in a predominantly black neighborhood, or one that cuts across racial boundaries and "embodies the message that King was preaching when he was alive."
Alderman also notes that naming a street after King is an appropriate way to honor him because African-Americans looked to movement and transportation as ways of challenging and changing the racial status quo and creating racial equality. The Underground Railroad, the Freedom Riders and King's protest marches and leadership of the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott are good examples, he said in his study.
"Street naming can be a pretty powerful way of honoring somebody when you consider the way streets connect people," Alderman said. "A significant amount of the actual mechanics of protest and the mechanics of carrying out the civil rights movement was actually carried out in street level protests and marches."
Renaming Linden Avenue for King may change the way residents give directions, but it also may help Memphis live down any shame and embarrassment that comes with being the city where King was assassinated.
Boyd said acknowledging King with his own street may be a symbol that Memphis is making strides in eliminating racial tensions and is finally dealing with King's death.
"We have to start embracing the heritage of our city," Boyd said. "Until we understand who we are as a city, we will always be left behind."
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