Street naming for Martin Luther King unveils the real America

Go Lean Commentary

We join the nation today to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. This day is an opportunity to honor Dr. King and his legacy.CU Blog - Street naming for Martin Luther King unveils the real America - Photo 1

Born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. King was a well-respected activist, scholar, pastor and humanitarian. Although his life was brief, Dr. King’s accomplishments in the civil rights movement and social justice are echoed throughout the world still today. Considered to be one of the greatest non-violent leaders in world history, Dr. King’s exceptional achievements used the power of legislation and social change.

As an advocate for freedom and non-violent resistance, Dr. King offered the power of words through public protests, grassroots organizing, and powerful sermons to achieve nearly insurmountable goals. He fought against racial segregation and poverty, advocated for international peace, and eliminated lasting barriers to voting for African-Americans.

In honor of his work, Dr. King received numerous awards during his lifetime including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He continues to be remembered as one of the most lauded African-American leaders in history, often referenced by his 1963 speech, “I Have a Dream.” – Corporate Intranet Website for Credit Acceptance Corporation, Southfield (Detroit), Michigan; retrieved January 18, 2016.

Ditto”, for the promoters of the book Go Lean … Caribbean and accompanying blogs advocating for change in the Caribbean. Dr. Martin Luther King proved that “one man can make a difference” – a frequent theme of this Go Lean movement. He thusly serves as a role model for current and future Caribbean advocates, activists and humanitarians hoping to impact the Greater Good in their homeland.

Based on these accomplishments, one would think honoring Dr. King with a street-naming would be a simple task.

One would think!

Let us see how far America has progressed regarding race relations, in the naming of streets after Martin Luther King, in one town after another!

Consider this encyclopedic source – a website:

Title: A street fit for a King?
Website: Politics of Naming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr. – Retrieved January 18, 2016:

Naming streets is one of the most widespread and contentious ways of commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.  Debates over whether to name a street for King and which specific street to identify with him have led to the boycott of businesses, protest marches, court actions, petition drives, the vandalizing of roads, and even activists chaining themselves to street signs.

Honoring King with a street name is often controversial when the road in question challenges long-standing racial and economic boundaries within communities.  While few scholars have studied the King street naming phenomena, the naming process is an important indicator of local political tensions as well as broader debates about race, memory, and place in America.

CU Blog - Street naming for Martin Luther King unveils the real America - Photo 2I have studied the politics of naming streets after King for the past several years, seeking to understand the obstacles that face street naming proponents and the various strategies that communities have pursued in finding a street fit for remembering King. In many instances (but not all), public opposition has led King’s name to be socially and geographically marginalized within cities, which has worked to stigmatize these streets and create public anxiety about renaming more prominent streets.  As a cultural geographer, my work stresses the importance that location–the street’s site, situation, and scale within the city’s larger social landscape–plays in shaping the meaning of King’s commemoration.    Believing that my research and perspectives can be of some help to the public, I have set up this web page as a resource for engaging and assisting the movement to remember the civil rights leader.

Below (Appendix A) are some research papers that I have written about naming streets for King as well as some questions that I frequently encounter in my discussions with journalists and street naming stakeholders (proponents and opponents).  If you have a question not listed here, email me and I will try to provide some feedback.


Site established to spread information and commentary on the (re)naming of streets for slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. with the hope of informing public debate.

If you use any information or statistics from this site, please cite the source (Appendix C) as: Derek Alderman, Professor of Geography, University of Tennessee, Knoxville TN.

To the uninitiated, one would think the year is 1956, rather than 2016; see the VIDEO (Appendix D) of the documentary “MLK Streets Project”. One would think that such a racially-charged society was only representative of the America of old; that now America has transformed, to the point that the President is of African-American descent. But it must be concluded that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The issue in the foregoing encyclopedic source (and the below VIDEO) relates the true disposition of the America many Caribbean citizens emigrate to, or want to. There is a great lure for Black-and-Brown Caribbean immigrants to come to America. But these portrayals/depictions would be the atmosphere that the new arrivals would have to navigate. Perhaps the shining light of that Welcome Sign should be dulled a little.

This consideration is brought to focus by the book Go Lean … Caribbean. The book serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the technocratic Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU), for the economic optimization in the region. One mission of the roadmap is to minimize the “push-and-pull” factors that contribute to the alarming high abandonment rate of Caribbean citizens – one report reflects a 70% brain drain rate.

The Go Lean book posits that when the economic engines are not sufficient that people will flee, abandon their homelands, despite the love of family, friends and culture and endure all obstacles to secure a better livelihood. This has been the reality for all of the Caribbean, even the American member-states (Puerto Rico & Virgin Islands). So is the “grass greener”, is life in the American urban communities better that the status quo in the Caribbean? Considering the actuality of Caribbean emigrants, and the fact that there is no migration in the opposite direction, the answer must be true.

Sad! If only, there would be a better option for the Caribbean?

The book and movement Go Lean…Caribbean present that option!

This CU/Go Lean roadmap provides the turn-by-turn directions with the following 3 prime directives:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion & create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improve Caribbean governance to support these engines.

The roadmap posits that the United States of America should not be viewed as the panacea for Caribbean ailments; that when the choices of a challenge is “fight or flight” that Caribbean society must now consider the “fight” options. (No violent conflict is being advocated, in emulation of Martin Luther King, but rather a strenuous effort, heavy-lifting, to compete and win economic battles).

Are there social issues in America that are more important than street naming?

CU Blog - Street naming for Martin Luther King unveils the real America - Photo 3Proponents for naming streets for King often encounter the argument that African Americans should concern themselves with civil rights issues “more important” than street naming.

No doubt, there are a large number of worthy social and economic issues in need of addressing. At the same time, it is worth thinking about how the naming of roads is not necessarily separate from the larger racial/social justice picture. Naming streets for King can signal something very important about the willingness (or unwillingness) of the larger community to invest in African Americans, thus providing (or failing to provide) a platform on which to bring about more “substantive” change and improvement. When that community refuses to do something as seemingly minor as naming street, what does that say about the degree to which the community is really ready or willing to take on the “tough” issues?

I have argued in my research that the street naming issue is about the struggle to be seen and heard within public space, an important civil right in and of itself and one arguably necessary for other rights to be realized. Plus, we can also think about how street naming can be coupled with other larger and “more important” social and economic campaigns on streets in America, such as community redevelopment.

The problem is NOT that street naming is inherently less important. Rather it is the limited ways in which we imagine street naming as a social and political tool.  The photo above, from a street naming struggle in Melbourne, Florida, captures the deep emotions that proponents and opponents attach to the street renaming issue.  Street naming proponents in Melbourne were especially vocal about how honoring King was part of a larger campaign against racism. – Professor Derek Alderman.

As related in the foregoing article/VIDEO, America is not so welcoming a society for the “Black and Brown” populations from the Caribbean – and yet they come, they are in the USA and their numbers cannot be ignored. Here is the need for the heavy-lifting, to effect change to dissuade further brain drain and in reverse to incentivize repatriation. While not ignoring the “push” reason that cause people to flee, the book stresses (early at Page 13) the need to be on-guard for this fight in the following pronouncements in the Declaration of Interdependence:

xix.    Whereas our legacy in recent times is one of societal abandonment, it is imperative that incentives and encouragement be put in place to first dissuade the human flight, and then entice and welcome the return of our Diaspora back to our shores. This repatriation should be effected with the appropriate guards so as not to imperil the lives and securities of the repatriated citizens or the communities they inhabit. The right of repatriation is to be extended to any natural born citizens despite any previous naturalization to foreign sovereignties.

xx.    Whereas the results of our decades of migration created a vibrant Diaspora in foreign lands, the Federation must organize interactions with this population into structured markets. Thus allowing foreign consumption of domestic products, services and media, which is a positive trade impact. These economic activities must not be exploited by others’ profiteering but rather harnessed by Federation resources for efficient repatriations.

xxi.    Whereas the preparation of our labor force can foster opportunities and dictate economic progress for current and future generations, the Federation must ensure that educational and job training opportunities are fully optimized for all residents of all member-states, with no partiality towards any gender or ethnic group. The Federation must recognize and facilitate excellence in many different fields of endeavor, including sciences, languages, arts, music and sports. This responsibility should be executed without incurring the risks of further human flight, as has been the past history.

xxvi.    Whereas the Caribbean region must have new jobs to empower the engines of the economy and create the income sources for prosperity, and encourage the next generation to forge their dreams right at home, the Federation must therefore foster the development of new industries, like that of ship-building, automobile manufacturing, prefabricated housing, frozen foods, pipelines, call centers, and the prison industrial complex. In addition, the Federation must invigorate the enterprises related to existing industries like tourism, fisheries and lotteries – impacting the region with more jobs.

This commentary previously related details of the Caribbean Diaspora experience, the “push-and-pull” factors in the US, and the American record on Civil Rights. Here is a sample from earlier Go Lean blogs: ‘The Covenant with Black America’ – Ten Years Later A Lesson in History – After the Civil War: Birthright Mandates ‘Good Hair’ and the Strong Black Woman American Defects: Racism – Is It Over? American Urban Segregation Legacies: Cause and Effect A Lesson in History – Booker T versus Du Bois Sports Role Model – Playing For Pride … And More American “Pull” Factors – Crisis in Black Homeownership Book Review: ‘Prosper Where You Are Planted’ Caribbean loses more than 70 percent of tertiary educated to brain drain Book Review: ‘The Divide’: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight

For the Caribbean Diaspora, fleeing from their homelands to reside in the US is akin to “jumping from the frying pan into the fire”. While we may not be able to change American society, we can – no, we must – impact our own society. How? What? When? Why? All of these questions are valid, because the answers are difficult. The Go Lean book details the heavy-lifting answers with a roadmap to implement new community ethos, strategies, tactics and operational advocacies to effectuate this goal:

Community Ethos – Deferred Gratification Page 21
Community Ethos – People Respond to Incentives Page 21
Community Ethos – Economic Systems Influences Choices & Incentives Page 21
Community Ethos – The Consequences of Choice Lie in the Future Page 21
Community Ethos – Job Multiplier Page 22
Community Ethos – Minority Equalization Page 24
Community Ethos – Lean Operations Page 24
Community Ethos – Ways to Foster Genius Page 27
Community Ethos – Ways to Impact the Greater Good Page 37
Strategy – Vision – Make the Caribbean the Best Address on Planet Page 45
Strategy – Mission – Repatriate Diaspora Page 46
Strategy – Mission – Dissuade Human Flight/“Brain Drain” Page 46
Tactical – Ways to Foster a Technocracy Page 64
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Federal Government versus Member-States Page 89
Implementation – Ways to Deliver Page 109
Implementation – Reasons to Repatriate Page 118
Planning – Lessons Learned from the Year 2008 Page 136
Planning – Lessons from the US Constitutional Laws and Processes Page 145
Advocacy – Ways to Grow the Economy Page 151
Advocacy – Ways to Create Jobs Page 152
Advocacy – Ways to Impact the Diaspora Page 217
Advocacy – Ways to Preserve Caribbean Heritage Page 218
Advocacy – Battles in the War on Poverty Page 222
Advocacy – Ways to Help the Middle Class Page 223
Advocacy – Ways to Impact US Territories Page 244
Appendix – Analysis of Caribbean Emigration Page 269
Appendix – Puerto Rican Population in the US Page 304

The scope of this roadmap is to focus on the changes we have to make in the Caribbean, not the changes for American society. The Caribbean can be the world’s best address. This success is conceivable, believable and achievable.  Now is the time for all of the Caribbean, the people and governing institutions, to lean-in to this Go Lean … Caribbean roadmap.

This is a big deal for the region. This roadmap is not just a plan, it’s a Dream. We want the same sense of possibility that was manifested by Dr. Martin Luther King. We too, have a dream that one day … [we would be] “free at last, free at last; thank God almighty we are free (and home) at last”. 🙂

Download the free e-Book of Go Lean … Caribbean – now!


Appendix A – Publications Related to MLK Place/Street Naming

Mitchell, Jerry and Derek H. Alderman. 2014. “A Street Named for a King: A Lesson in the Politics of Place-Naming.” Social Education 78(3): 137-142.

Alderman, Derek H. and Joshua F.J. Inwood. 2013. “Street Naming and the Politics of Belonging: Spatial Injustices in the Toponymic Commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr.” Social & Cultural Geography 14(2): 211-233.

Dwyer, Owen J. and Derek H. Alderman. 2008. Civil Rights Memorials and the Geography of Memory.  Book from Center for American Places and University of Georgia Press.

Alderman, Derek H. 2008. “Martin Luther King, Jr. Streets in the South: A New Landscape of Memory.Southern Cultures 14(3): 88-105.

Alderman, Derek H., Steve Spina, and Preston Mitchell. 2008. “A Bumpy Road: the Challenges of Naming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr.” Planning 74(1): 18-21. Contribution to American Planning Association magazine.

Alderman, Derek H. and Preston Mitchell. 2007. “A Sign of Changing Times: A Street Renaming Lesson from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.” Public Management  89(6): 37-38. Contribution to International City/County Management Association magazine as part of special feature entitled Street Naming: Not as Easy as You Might Think.

Mitchelson, Matthew, Derek H. Alderman, Jeff Popke. 2007. “Branded: The Economic Geographies of MLK Streets.” Social Science Quarterly 88(1): 120-145.

Alderman, Derek H. 2006. “Naming Streets after Martin Luther King, Jr.: No Easy Road.” In Landscape and Race in the United States, Routledge Press (edited by Richard Schein), pp. 213-236.

Alderman, Derek H. 2003. “Street names and the scaling of memory: The politics of commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. within the African-American community.Area 35 (2): 163-173.

Alderman, Derek H. 2002. “Street Names as Memorial Arenas: The Reputational Politics of Commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. in a Georgia County.”  Historical Geography 30: 99-120.

Alderman, Derek H. 2002. “School Names as Cultural Arenas: The Naming of U.S. Public Schools after Martin Luther King, Jr.Urban Geography 23(7): 601-626.

Alderman, Derek H. 2000.  “A Street fit for a King: Naming Places and Commemoration in the American South.”  Professional Geographer 52(4): 672-684.

Alderman, Derek H.  1996. “Creating a New Geography of Memory in the South: The (Re) Naming of Streets in Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.”  Southeastern Geographer 36(1): 51-69.


Appendix B – MLK Street Naming Educational Pamphlet

Electronic copy (pdf) of community outreach pamphlet on MLK street naming (produced 2005). Note data is now old. Pamphlet distributed to various schools, activists groups, and civil rights; national meetings of the NAACP and SCLC; and MLK Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia.

Outside cover of pamphlet

Inside content of pamphlet


Appendix C – About Professor Derek Alderman

Professor of Cultural and Historical Geography and Head of the Department of GeographyUniversity of Tennessee-Knoxville (formerly affiliated with East Carolina University)


Homepage Page 

Book on Civil Rights Memorials and Street Naming

Email at:

Follow on: @MLKStreet


Appendix D – Trailer MLK Street Project

Uploaded on Sep 28, 2010 – Trailer for the documentary “The MLK Streets Project”. A film by One Common Unity and Straight No Chaser Productions

Share this post:
, , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *