Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – in Our Hearts and in Our Cities
On January 15th, Americans come together to observe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, celebrating the life and impact of one of our most revered leaders of the civil rights movement. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a law that made the third Monday in January a federal holiday, to commemorate his achievements. Cities, townships and neighborhoods across our great country share in the desire to recognize the values he inspired us to live up to, including unity, justice, courage, love, and nonviolence. His name graces many of our nation’s roads, landmarks, schools and public buildings, in recognition of the remarkable influence he had on the civil rights movement.
According to researchers at the University of Tennessee, over 900 roads, streets and highways in the U.S. and Puerto Rico are named in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Not surprisingly, MLK’s home state of Georgia leads the pack with over 100 named roads. One notable example from another state includes Jackson, Mississippi’s MLK Jr Drive which runs through a landmark called Freedom Corner and hosts of a parade each January featuring school marching bands, JROTC groups and local community leaders. Eleven cities have major highways named after Dr. King, including: Akron, Ohio; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Fort Worth, Texas; Jacksonville Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; Memphis, Tennessee; Norfolk, Virginia; San Diego, California; Staten Island, New York; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Many of the streets and roadways bearing King’s name have fallen into disrepair and efforts are ongoing to revitalize these important roadways in communities across America.
While streets certainly lead the list in “things named after MLK”, there is no shortage of parks and plazas that you can visit while celebrating his life. These include:
- Los Angeles, California’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, offering a baseball field, basketball courts, tennis courts, playground, and picnic tables;
- Memphis, Tennessee’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Riverside Park, featuring walking trails and open spaces on the Eastern bank of the mighty Mississippi River;
- Toledo, Ohio’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza, which serves as the main bus station and passenger rail stop for the city;
- Silver Springs, Maryland’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreational Park, 95-acres of tennis courts, nature trails, playgrounds, baseball fields, and swimming pools; and
- Martinsburg, West Virginia’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, featuring a large picnic gazebo, grill, playground and basketball court.
A discussion of notable MLK landmarks wouldn’t be complete without a look at some of the libraries, schools, campuses and federal buildings named after this civil rights icon. If reading is your thing, check out the special exhibits and book collection of San José, California’s Dr. Memphis’ Martin Luther King, Jr. Public Library. Over fifty years ago Dr. King remarked, “I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls” in his famous I Have a Dream speech, and now more than 100 public schools bear tribute to his name and achievements. One of the largest is the Martin Luther King Jr. High School of Detroit, Michigan which recently revised its curriculum to focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. You can also visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building in Atlanta, Georgia, originally completed in 1933 as a central Post Office, built in a simple Modernist style.
So if you find yourself with an extra day off for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, take some time to visit these cities from the comfort of your home computer. Coretta Scott King also recommends using the time to get involved in local, nonviolent action for civil rights and social progress.