Street Names and Reconciliation

Late last year the local NAACP brought a request to the city council. They wanted the city to rename one of the major streets in town after Martin Luther King, Jr. The council seemed open to changing the name of a minor street somewhere in town, but spoke strongly against changing the major streets – Jefferson, Rusk, Mt. Pleasant, Quitman or Texas. Everyone spoke highly of Martin Luther King, Jr., but thought change was a bad idea. Business owners on theses streets spoke of the connection between their “identity” and the name of the street and the cost of replacing all their stationery and advertising. After several fractious meetings, the request was turned down.

Last month the NAACP decided to respond to the city fathers by asking all their members to do no shopping in Pittsburg – to go to the trouble of driving to neighboring cities.

As a lifelong nomad, I’ve never become strongly attached to street names. So in Pittsburg’s latest civil conflict I find myself without any strong opinions. I don’t care whether the street I live on or the streets by my place of work change name.

Our town – like some others in the country – has a neighborhood where most inhabitants are African American. Some might think, “If they want to name a street after Martin Luther King, Jr., let them change one of their streets.” That’s an entirely wrong, perspective, however. We are one town. However much we might think it from time to time, it’s not “us” and “them” – however we’d like to divvy it up.

Of course, there’s plenty of reason to not think we’re “us.” I’m a newcomer to town, so I don’t know all the details about the history of race relations. I’ve heard a story about how during integration, the law declared that the public swimming pool which had been “whites only” had to be integrated. Instead of doing that the folks in charge decided to fill it in with dirt. If the whites couldn’t swim by themselves, then no one would swim. Real smart move, wasn’t it?

If the rest of the city’s history has been anything like that, I can understand how some African American folks might be inclined to think they’re not wanted – that the city is against them.

Jesus came to tear down the wall dividing Jew & Gentile. That wall was mighty tall. It had been there a long time. Jesus tore it down. Why? Because his purpose was to join into one Body all who had faith in Him. We haven’t had that kind of reconciliation here in Pittsburg. We have lots of churches – almost all segregated. And too many are happy that way.

I’ve also noticed that most of the city’s leaders are church people. People who claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And yet we’re content to ignore Jesus’ wishes. I must be missing something.

What about the street? Again, I don’t think a street is a big deal. But in our case I can’t help but think that it’s a symbol of our greater love for “the way things have always been” than for Jesus and his agenda.

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2 Responses to Street Names and Reconciliation

  1. Amen, brother! I suggest they change Jefferson. He’s kinda out of favor these days anyway, isn’t he? What with fathering a child with one of his slaves and all.

  2. I aprpeciate your writing about this and clearly articulating the issue and the “sides” taken.

    I can’t understand the stress over the re-naming of a street. It seems to me (perhaps that’s why I read you as tending to see it the same way) that the better thing to do, in the interest of community harmony and reconciliation, to rename a prominent street after MLK, Jr.

    Out of curiosity, when was the last time a street was renamed in Pittsburg for any reason?

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