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Dr. King deserves more than a sliver of a desolate street

April 4, 2012 – a date that will live in infamy. I borrow this quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt because it is so fitting to mark this occasion.

April 4, 2012 – a date that will live in infamy. I borrow this quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt because it is so fitting to mark this occasion.

Today, in Memphis, TN, a sliver of a desolate city street was renamed in recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While I’m sure some people find this tribute fitting, it sickens my stomach. Besides the fact that this is 2012, and it has taken 44 years to bestow this “honor,” I am disgusted by the portion of street that was chosen to commemorate the fallen civil rights leader.

Forty-four years after the brutal killing of one of greatest human rights leaders this world has ever known – and how do we choose to honor the world’s drum major for social change? Seven hundred (700) yards of a desolate street and one street sign – hardly befitting of a man whose life was taken in our fair city. If you are going to wait over 40 years to honor the man, this is the statement that you choose to make?

Dr. King came to this city to assist the sanitation workers when no one else would take on the controversial issue. His blood was shed and his life was lost in this city. And the thanks he receives for his ultimate sacrifice? A street sign on a tiny stretch of road rarely traveled – and four decades later.

Did our city officials not know that most metropolitan areas in this country acknowledge Dr. King’s contributions by way of schools, libraries and monuments coined after him? Did it slip their minds that Dr. King’s name is represented on major thoroughfares stretching throughout cities in over 60 countries? Did our elected officials fail to realize that Dr. King was just recently memorialized with a national monument in our country’s capitol?

I am a native Memphian and I love my city, but enough is enough! I can no longer passively watch the shortsightedness of our elected officials prevail on matters of this magnitude. As a Morehouse College alum (Class of ’86), I am well versed on Dr. King’s philosophies and teachings. One thing I learned from my matriculation through Dr. King’s alma mater is that one man can make a difference. There’s an old saying that a closed mouth won’t get fed. So, I’m opening my mouth to speak in opposition of an issue that many others apparently find distasteful – the slighting of a great American hero.

One of our local radio hosts said that this city already does too much for this “one person.”  Well, I vehemently disagree. This “one person” is symbolic of all that we supposedly hold dear in this country – our rights and our freedoms. More than the man, it is what he represents to this nation.  

I’m calling on everyone around this city, state, and country to join with me to insist that Dr. King’s name and image take a more prominent place in the Memphis landscape – the very land wherein he was slain. Why? In Dr. King’s words, “Injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.”

When we still contend with the racial and economic inequalities as those outstanding in our news headlines, it is clear that the message that Dr. King heralded has not been internalized in our society. Until that time, we need to be vigilant, and proclaim “Let Freedom Ring!” Just as there are physical monuments to memorialize those who contributed to the history of Memphis, such as Nathan Bedford, so too, should this national leader be venerated in this fine city.

The last speech rendered on the last night of Dr. King’s life was a damning indictment on this country for its racial, economic and warmongering practices – the same issues that consume our local and national news today. Clearly, the dream has not been fulfilled. Our derelict and deficient act to posthumously celebrate him is an indictment on us. We need a permanent and prominent reminder of not only the man, but also, the dream and the legacy.

It’s high time for our elected officials to do what we pay them to do: speak out on behalf of the people. I find it hard to believe that the citizens of Memphis only wish to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with 700 yards of a desolate street and one street sign. The world is watching, and once again, Memphis has positioned itself to be the target of ridicule. Why would we add the insult of this unfitting token tribute to follow the injury of 44 years of overt nothingness? Let’s rethink this, officials. What say you?

How can we justly and suitably amend this half century oversight? Perhaps we can take a clue from another infamous example. In 1997, 50 years after Jackie Robinson’s groundbreaking debut into major league baseball, the league retired not only his jersey, but the number 42. Their actions placed his number and his legacy in perpetuity. Said the MLB commissioner of Robinson, his contributions were significant “not only for baseball, but for our country in general.” Likewise, Dr. King’s contributions to creating a more just and equitable community, were not only momentous for blacks in Memphis, but for the city, nation and our world, and for that reason, a dedication in this town, should reflect the totality of his work.

James T. (Jai) Boyd


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