MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis officials on Thursday approved naming a city street after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., nearly 44 years after the civil rights leader was killed in the city.
The 10 members of the Memphis and Shelby County Land Use Control Board voted unanimously to re-name a nine-block downtown stretch as Dr. Martin Luther King Avenue. Previously called Linden Avenue, it runs in front of the FedExForum, where the Memphis Grizzlies play their home games, and parallel to Beale Street, the famous tourist drag.
The street also runs near the Clayborn Temple, where King rallied with striking sanitation workers days before he was assassinated by James Earl Ray on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. King also led a march on Linden Avenue during the strike.
The city already had a section of Interstate 240 dedicated to King, but the naming of a prominent street in the city's tourist district is being seen as a symbol that the city is finally taking steps to heal the wound caused by the assassination
A ceremony is planned for April 4 to honor King and unveil the new street signs. About 900 U.S. cities already have city streets named for King.
"The world was looking at Memphis to make its mark," said Berlin Boyd, a former city councilman who made the proposal to rename Linden Avenue
The board's vote is final, but there still may be more work to be done.
Gregory Grant, a member of the National Action Network, said he supported extending King Avenue beyond the nine blocks approved Thursday. Leaders of churches that sit along Linden Avenue east of the nine-block section also support an extension.
"It would be an act on the part of this committee that shows we are healing," Grant told the board.
A question still remains as to what the street signs will say. There is a concern that "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave." would be too long, and it is possible the name could be truncated to "Dr. M. L. King Jr. Ave."