Memphis may finally honor King with street

A trolley car crosses Linden Avenue on Main Street on Wednesday in Memphis, Tenn. A proposal to rename nine blocks of Linden “Dr. Martin Luther King Avenue” is expected to pass when it comes before the Memphis and Shelby County Land Use Control Board.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- In more than four decades since the Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated on the balcony of Memphis' Lorraine Motel, about 900 U.S. cities have named local streets for him. Memphis is not one of them, though there is a stretch of interstate bearing his name.

Now Memphis officials will consider a naming a key downtown street for the civil rights icon after years of inaction that some say reflects a sense of shame and denial in the city where he was cut down.

The proposal to rename nine blocks of Linden Avenue to Dr. Martin Luther King Avenue is expected to pass today when it comes before the Memphis and Shelby County Land Use Control Board. As of Tuesday, the board hadn't received any comments opposing the honor for King, who was killed by assassin James Earl Ray on April 4, 1968.

Berlin Boyd, a former city councilman, came up with the proposal earlier this year while still in office and it easily passed. He predicts it will pass the land use board, with a naming ceremony expected to take place on April 4. The board has final say unless an appeal is filed within 10 days.

The street re-naming is being seen by many Memphians as a symbol that the city is taking steps to heal wounds.

"It was something that had a place in my heart for some time," Boyd said. "Here is a city where Martin Luther King's blood cries from the streets, and we don't have anything to pay tribute to him."

King came to Memphis to support a sanitation workers' strike in 1968 in what became his final act as a civil rights leader. The National Civil Rights Museum is built at the site of the former Lorraine Motel, where King stayed while supporting the sanitation workers. The Rev. James Netters, who marched with King and the sanitation workers as a city councilman, said he proposed naming a street for King in the early 1970s, but the City Council voted to dedicate a stretch of Interstate 240 to him instead.

Supporters say renaming Linden Avenue for King is more significant than the dedication of the interstate because the avenue is in the heart of the city's downtown and residents will have to use the avenue's name to give directions.