Stop mucking around about MLK in Johnson City

Johnson City Press • Apr 4, 2018 at 7:30 AM

Maybe it’s mere coincidence, but there’s serendipitous irony in Monday’s announcement that Johnson City is again shifting gears with a way to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination in Memphis, and observances are set here and around the country. While King’s work was of particular importance to people of color, it changed the life of every American for the better.

But there’s still no significant marker in Johnson City to honor the man who paved the way for that progress. That’s unconscionable in 2018, five decades after his death. There’s still much to be done toward equality in this country, and honoring King in Johnson City should be a reminder that society must remain vigilant in that regard.

For years, the City Commission has mucked around with various proposals to rename a street for King. Suggestions have included Legion Street, Buffalo Street and North State of Franklin Road. Commissioners could not manage to do what thousands of other communities — Bristol and Kingsport included — had achieved across the country.

Finally, the movement gained traction last year when community members rallied for a decision. But when the Johnson City Planning Commission unanimously voted to “rename” King Street, a little-traveled downtown side street, the city’s black leaders justifiably called foul. King’s legacy deserved better — a highly visible reminder of his inclusive message. Placating, patronizing gestures serve no one.

So in November, the City Commission reached what many considered a viable compromise. Rather than renaming a street, the commission agreed to ask the state Legislature to designate University Parkway as “Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.” That would have brought signage to one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares without having to adjust addresses.

That plan hit a roadblock, though, when city officials learned University Parkway already had such a designation, “Purple Heart Highway.”

So now, we’re back to North State of Franklin between West Market Street and the Bristol Highway, a location community leaders had advocated in the first place.

Your head spinning yet?

Like the University Parkway proposal, the latest plan would not rename anything — just add the honorary title to North State of Franklin. City Manager Pete Peterson told commissioners Monday he thinks the state Legislature will act on the designation by the end of the current session.

Let’s hope our local lawmakers will have the good sense to give the matter the urgency it deserved years ago and not allow another milestone to pass.

Note: East Tennessee State University will observe the anniversary of King’s assassination tonight at 7 in the Culp Auditorium.

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