By Barney Blakeney
As the Charleston community and nation winds down from celebrating another Martin L. King Jr. Birthday Holiday, a nearly two-decade-old effort to establish a monument to King in Charleston remains in limbo.
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 was unsuccessful, but in consolation city officials named the Spring Street/Cannon Street corridors the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial District.
Other consolation promises have not been realized either. Among them were promises to create in the district a park bearing King’s name that would include a monument. 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. The committee found a location at federally-owned Liberty Square on Concord Street in Ansonborough. But the monument has not been erected.
Charleston City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie has served on the King Monument Committee since being elected to council some 12 years ago. “I don’t know what the status is of the project,” he said Monday. “The commission hasn’t had a meeting in several years.” Other city officials working to prepare for Mayor John Tecklenburg’s Tuesday State of the City address were unavailable to provide a status report on the project.
So as the city wraps up another Martin L. King Jr. observance, the disappointment of an unfulfilled dream to create a monument to King also continues unrealized. The Spring Street/Cannon Street corridors of the Martin L. King Jr. Memorial District, formerly a hub for black business activity, has transitioned into a center of urban gentrification that’s displaced most of its former businesses and residents.
Naming the area in honor of King honored the martyred civil rights icon. 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 white residents and businesses.
Last year at the onset of the annual observance of King’s birthday Dist. 3 Councilman James Lewis scoffed, “The only thing that’s come out of all of it is an ugly green sign above Spring Street near the intersection of King Street.” The consolation that came in the form of the district designation was a disgraceful attempt to placate the leadership, he said.