The major landmarks include Bronzeville, the neighborhood where numerous black activists lived or worked and tourism officials have marked with plaques. There’s also Chicago State University, where Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks taught.
In Miami, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard stretches from the predominantly Cuban town of Hialeah through largely black Liberty City and into Little Haiti — a reflection of both the city’s diverse demographics as well as its lingering segregation.
Along MLK Boulevard in Hialeah, where U.S. flags fly alongside Cuban ones, MLK Boulevard isn’t known as the street named after a civil rights leader. Rather, it’s simply referred to by its number: “La Nueve Street,” or 9th Street.
The sights and sounds of MLK Boulevard change in Liberty City, where many buildings are shuttered and storefront churches can be found on almost every block. In the decades after the civil rights movement, Liberty City has seen two race riots and struggled to escape a cycle of violence and poverty.
At Miami Edison High School on the border of Liberty City and Little Haiti, 17-year-old Judith Etienne said King would be disappointed in his unfulfilled dream.
“I’m sure Martin Luther King didn’t have this in his dream,” she said. “There’s a lot of kids dying of gang violence in this community.”
For Alderman, the King street scholar, the struggle to reclaim MLK Jr. Drive in St. Louis offers a realistic portrayal of the battles King waged a half-century ago — and where such efforts need to reach into the 21st Century.
“Those street names are really powerful social indicators of how far we’ve come in really fulfilling the dream, and giving us an indication of where we need to do more work,” he said. “As much as it may sadden us, it demarcates and defines boundaries for civil rights activism for the future. You’ve got something that remembers the past that actually works, in its own tragic irony, to symbolize where the struggle still is.”
(AP Photo: In this Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 photo, 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.)