You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

US-World politics

  • Defend 'Obamacare' unabashedly, some Democrats say
    With enrollments higher than expected, and costs lower, some Democrats say it's time to stop hiding from the president's health care overhaul, even in this year's toughest Senate elections.
  • Court to weigh challenge to ban on campaign lies
    Negative campaigning and mudslinging may be a fact of life in American politics, but can false accusations made in the heat of an election be punished as a crime?
  • Democrats have outside money advantage - for now
    Deep-pocketed donors are turning over multimillion-dollar checks to influence November’s elections, and the sums raised by the national parties and their super PAC allies are already approaching the $1 billion mark, according to
Advertisement
Associated Press
Melvin White, founder of the Beloved Streets of America project, walks past a boarded up building during a tour of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in St. Louis.

MLK-named streets suffer

Small St. Louis group begins work on renaissance

– A walk down the 6-mile city street named for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. yields plenty of images that would surely unsettle the civil rights leader: shuttered storefronts, open-air drug markets and a glut of pawnshops, quickie check-cashing providers and liquor stores.

The urban decay along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in St. Louis can be found in other major American cities, from Houston and Milwaukee to the nation’s capital.

“It’s a national problem,” said Melvin White, a 46-year-old postal worker in St. Louis and founder of a 3-year-old nonprofit group that is trying to restore King’s legacy on asphalt. “Dr. King would be turning over in his grave.”

Nearly three decades into the observance of today’s federal holiday, the continuing decline of the most visible symbols of King’s work has White and others calling for a renewed commitment to the more than 900 streets nationwide named in the Atlanta native’s honor. The effort centers in St. Louis, where the small nonprofit is working to reclaim MLK roadways as a source of pride and inspiration, not disappointment over a dream derailed.

White’s goals are ambitious, his resources admittedly modest. A neighborhood park is planned across the street from the group’s headquarters. An urban agriculture project to encourage residents to eat healthy and grow their own food has preliminary support from nearby Washington University, one of the country’s wealthiest private colleges.

Above all, Beloved Streets of America wants to build community from the ashes of what was once a thriving retail corridor when White was a child.

The template can be found just a mile away. Delmar Boulevard, which saw a similar decline, is now a vibrant retail corridor packed with restaurants, nightclubs, a renovated movie theater and a boutique hotel.

The renaissance earned Delmar recognition in 2007 as one of “10 Great Streets in America” by the American Planning Association.

Journalist Jonathan Tilove, who wrote a 2003 book based on visits to 650 King streets nationwide, called the King byways “black America’s Main Street.”

“Map them and you map a nation within a nation, a place where white America seldom goes and black America can be itself,” he wrote. “It is a parallel universe with a different center of gravity and distinctive sensibilities. … There is no other street like it.”

But while streets named for King undoubtedly resonate widely in the black community, a University of Tennessee geography professor whose research explores the cultural and political significance of such streets said the compromised condition of streets named for King in St. Louis and other cities deserves broader attention.

“In some ways we racially profile these streets,” said Derek Alderman, author of a 2007 study that found a smaller disparity among MLK-named streets and other “main streets” than is popularly portrayed. “We need to move beyond those images and see what concrete lives and realities are living on those streets.”

Chicago’s Martin Luther King Drive, a major thoroughfare spanning roughly a dozen miles south of downtown, is anchored by important hubs of black life in the city. The street features grassy boulevards with stately graystones, while other segments touch rougher patches that have fallen into disrepair, including a dilapidated motel that drew community protests over crime. Gentrification is taking hold along some parts.

Advertisement