The news: On Jan. 19, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is celebrated for the 24th time as a national holiday.
Behind the news: There are an estimated 800 streets in the United States named after the civil rights leader, including one dedicated in Chicago shortly after his death in 1968, said Derek Alderman, an East Carolina University geography professor who has studied the subject extensively.
But what’s happening on those streets varies greatly when considering race, economics and crime.
In Portland, Ore., for example, King streets are gentrifying and losing their cultural richness, said Jonathan Tilove, author of “Along Martin Luther King: Travels on Black America’s Main Street.” In San Antonio, people living near Martin Luther King Drive are poor, with an estimated 70 percent falling below the city’s median household income, according to a Chicago Reporter analysis of census data.
And while King promoted harmony, residents in some towns are sometimes reluctant to allow a street extending outside of the black community to be named after King. “When African Americans push to have part of the street beyond the black community named for King, that’s when flags go up; petitions start flying in,” Alderman said.
Comedian Chris Rock once joked in his routine that King streets are dangerous. Statistics show that, at least in Chicago, it’s not the most dangerous street. According to statistics from EveryBlock, there were fewer murders per mile on King Drive between January and November than on Michigan Avenue. King Drive had 0.3 murders per mile, while Michigan Avenue had 0.6. The citywide murder-per-mile rate was 0.1, with a total of 420 murders occurring on the city’s 3,775 total miles of street.
In six cities across the country–” Atlanta; Chicago; Houston; Oakland, Calif.; San Antonio and San Diego–”the Reporter found that on average 63 percent of people living in census tracts along King streets earned less than their city’s median household income.
In all but two of the six cities, African Americans were the predominant racial group living there.
“There are still lots of boundaries at a local level that are getting reinforced, even though we’ve advanced far enough to elect an African-American president,” Alderman said.