Monday, January 20, 2014

Did You Know: How Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in L.A. Came To Be

 LOS ANGELES - As we reflect on Doctor Martin Luther King Junior this day we should all (hopefully) know and understand the legacy the civil rights leader left, and one unique lasting testament Mr. King left throughout the country are the hundreds of streets named in his honor. According to a 2006 East Carolina University study it is believed that at least 730 streets are named after Mr. King.

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Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. addressing the crowd from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered his historic, famous, “I Have a Dream,” speech during on August 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C. Photograph in public domain.

It would be 1983 Los Angeles would see Santa Barbara Avenue in the South L.A. area become Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and just in time for the 1984 Summer Olympics.

So just how did L.A. get one of its streets named after Mr. King? Well, it partly involved Stevie Wonder and Jesse Jackson.

The transformation from Santa Barbara Ave. to Martin Luther King Blvd. began with businessman Celes King III. Mr. King III strongly believed L.A. should and must have a street named after the civil rights activist.

Of course nothing is as easy it seems, and personal partisan politics got in the way then, as they do today, in naming a street after Mr. King, because Celes was not entirely thrilled to turn to Mayor Tom Bradley about the idea, because Mr. Bradley was not a fan of Celes. Why, well, Celes was a Republican, and in fact was one of the most prominent African-American Republicans in the country at the time. Now it really did not help matters that Celes worked hard to keep the Democrat Mr. Bradley from getting elected and reelected mayor.

So knowing this was not going to be an easy pitch Celes took his idea to L.A. City Councilman Robert Farrell. Whether it was because Mr. Farrell was an active participant in the civil rights movement and Freedom Rider who's 8th District was in the South L.A. area, or perhaps another reason altogether, Mr. Farrell liked the idea.

Many streets were considered, but the reason Santa Barbara Ave. was chosen is that it ran west-east and did not go through numerous other council districts, unlike many north-south streets, according to Mr. Farrell. The proposed street name change would only run through two other council districts, and this proposal would hopefully garner the very important needed support of the full L.A. City Council.

Right after the street name change proposal came the protests. Many businesspeople objected to the street name change because it would apparently be a financial burden to change their business cards and letterheads, and then various city departments loudly objected to the street name change for mainly budget reasons. Then there were a lot of people in the community who objected to this change simply because it was Celes' idea (again, personal partisan politics have not changed much in 30 years).

As the debate raged in L.A. City Hall word got around that Jesse Jackson would be in town for the Urban League’s national convention. One of Mr. Farrell's council staff members was Gwen Green, and Ms Green once worked with Martin Luther King Jr., and happened to know Mr. Jackson from her days working with Mr. King. After making a series of telephone calls Ms. Green asked Mr. Jackson to come speak at a city council meeting and hopefully broker some kind of peace deal in the various warring factions over the proposed street name change.

Not only did Mr. Jackson come in to speak, but also the National Rainbow Coalition founder brought along one Stevie Wonder, who also spoke at the meeting. The words said by Mr. Jackson and Mr. Wonder worked, because shortly after the city council voted unanimously in 1983 to pass the motion to rename Santa Barbara Ave., Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

To celebrate the occasion the first Kingdom Day Parade was held on the street, and has since become an annual tradition every Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Today Martin Luther King Blvd., sometimes called just "MLK" or MLK Blvd, or King Blvd, and is about five miles long beginning near Jefferson High School at Hooper Ave. and ending near Rodeo Road.

It should be noted that Santa Barbara Ave. was not named after the famed city up the coast, but rather named after Saint Barbara, a saint of the Middle Ages who was allegedly tortured and beheaded by her pagan father for refusing to denounce her newly acquired Christian faith. The word “allegedly” is used as there have been doubts among many scholarly and theologian historians about the accuracy of St. Barbara's account.

Now you know a little bit on how Martin Luther King Blvd. came to be in the City of Angels.

1 comment:

  1. You said the street "Santa Barbara Ave" was not named after the city of Santa Barbara. You said it was named after Saint Barbara. "Santa Barbara" is Spanish for "Saint Barbara." Both the city and the street were named after Saint Barbara. The City of Santa Barbara was first named by the Spanish. I'm only here because I was looking for the date when they first changed the name to MLK. Thanks for that.