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Martin Luther King District Unfulfilled, But Still Possible
1/14/2016 10:56:35 AM
Last Updated:
1/14/2016 11:51:59 AM

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial District near King and Spring Street Downtown
By Barney Blakeney

In 1999 then Charleston City Councilman Wendell Gilliard proposed renaming Spring Street on the peninsula in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The proposal drew significant opposition, but in consolation city officials named the Spring Street/Cannon Street corridors the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial District.

Naming the area in honor of Dr. King in some ways gave honor to the martyred civil rights icon. The area that once was a hub of the city’s vibrant black business and residential community had embodied King’s dream of empowered black communities.

But since the district was designated, the Spring Street/Cannon Street corridors have become classic examples of the displacement of black businesses and residents that characterizes most of the peninsular city. Today, the Spring Street/Cannon Street corridors are almost exclusively home to increasingly more white residents and businesses.

There were promises to create a park bearing King’s name and a monument in the district. Those promises have lingered unfulfilled. When plans for the park in King’s honor were abandoned, city officials selected a committee to coordinate the erection of a monument elsewhere in the city.
In 2008 the National Park Service’s Liberty Square on Concord Street was proposed for the sight. The effort has been stagnated since its inception. The proposed monument to King at Liberty Square has been on hold nearly two decades.

Last week Gilliard said the district was created, but the reality of a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. is an uncashed check. Charleston Councilman James Lewis said the district’s only evidence of a memorial to King is an ugly green sign bearing his name that hangs above Spring Street near its intersection at King  Street. Gentrification in the area almost has erased the culture that represents the things King stood for, he said.

Councilman William Dudley Gregorie said the reality of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial District conjures the need for greater minority participation and equity in the city’s economic development, not just in the designated district, but citywide.

“We’ve got to determine if the purpose of the district was something to represent what Dr. King advocated or if it was just a symbol representing his memory,” Gregorie said.

“I don’t see any plans to revive the effort to build a monument at Liberty Square, but the current city council can make sure greater economic opportunities are available to minorities. I’m optimistic about that. But I don’t see the district in isolation. We have to do that throughout the city,” Gregorie said.

Visitor Comments

Submitted By: Finesse' Submitted: 1/16/2016
I respect this article. I'm a hip-hop artist from St. Helena Island, SC. Our MLK road is the regular definition of black business and at the same time rather lackluster environment. As I'm in Charleston until March, I do want to do something while I'm here.

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