Thursday, February 22, 2007

The King Expressway

39 years after the death of Reverend Martin Luther King Junior, Louisville has decided to name a busy stretch of highway after him.

In August Interstate 65, from the Indiana border to the Bullitt County line, will be renamed the Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway. It will be a welcome change for some, and an awkward one for others.

The name change basically fell out of the blue late last year when a Louisville councilwoman proposed renaming a busy street in west Louisville in honor of King. The proposal was quickly abandoned after the residents of the Portland neighborhood expressed their feelings that King's name would not reflect their Irish-Catholic heritage. However, this did not kill the debate. There as a sudden push to rename a major thoroughfare after King, and there was no way to get in it's way.

Not long after this idea was shot down, the mayor and several council members proposed the renaming of Interstate 65. It was debated, and passed the city council before going to a vote in the Kentucky Legislature. There it won approval - by a vote of 99 to 0. The governor has said he will sign the bill and road signs will soon be placed on the highway advertising it's new name.

Any change to a roads name will be met with resistance at first - simply because it is seen a huge new change. But the name will quickly be absorbed by the city, and become as common as using "the Watterson" to describe Interstate 264, or "the Snyder" to describe Interstate 265. Eventually Interstate 65 will simply become "the King".

While I believe that it is imperative for the city of Louisville to honor the memory, legacy, and accomplishment of this great man, I can't help but think Louisville should have picked one of it's own unsung African-American civil rights heroes for this road. Louisville and Kentucky has no lack of great black leaders, and this could have been a great opportunity to honor one of our own leaders in a unique way. To me, this isn't a major point of contention, but maybe something that can be thought about in the future.

In the end, the renaming of Interstate 65 may be a small controversy for those citizens who do not value diversity (that's a nice way to put it, wouldn't you agree?) but will probably go unnoticed by most.

What I truly wish is that this community would not honor it's black leaders with sweet platitudes and interstate names, but that we would honor them by creating a society that is equal and just for all Kentuckians. A place where the "West End" isn't for the blacks and the "East End" isn't for the whites. A city where we try to live up to the American Dream of creating a more perfect union with all of our neighbors. Does that sound idealistic? Maybe. But sometimes it is nice to have a dream.

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