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 â€“ 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 â€œidentityâ€ 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 â€“ to go to the trouble of driving to neighboring cities.
As a lifelong nomad, Iâ€™ve never become strongly attached to street names. So in Pittsburgâ€™s latest civil conflict I find myself without any strong opinions. I donâ€™t care whether the street I live on or the streets by my place of work change name.
Our town â€“ like some others in the country â€“ has a neighborhood where most inhabitants are African American. Some might think, â€œIf they want to name a street after Martin Luther King, Jr., let them change one of their streets.â€ Thatâ€™s an entirely wrong, perspective, however. We are one town. However much we might think it from time to time, itâ€™s not â€œusâ€ and â€œthemâ€ â€“ however weâ€™d like to divvy it up.
Of course, thereâ€™s plenty of reason to not think weâ€™re â€œus.â€ Iâ€™m a newcomer to town, so I donâ€™t know all the details about the history of race relations. Iâ€™ve heard a story about how during integration, the law declared that the public swimming pool which had been â€œwhites onlyâ€ had to be integrated. Instead of doing that the folks in charge decided to fill it in with dirt. If the whites couldnâ€™t swim by themselves, then no one would swim. Real smart move, wasnâ€™t it?
If the rest of the cityâ€™s history has been anything like that, I can understand how some African American folks might be inclined to think theyâ€™re not wanted â€“ 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 havenâ€™t had that kind of reconciliation here in Pittsburg. We have lots of churches â€“ almost all segregated. And too many are happy that way.
Iâ€™ve also noticed that most of the cityâ€™s leaders are church people. People who claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And yet weâ€™re content to ignore Jesusâ€™ wishes. I must be missing something.
What about the street? Again, I donâ€™t think a street is a big deal. But in our case I canâ€™t help but think that itâ€™s a symbol of our greater love for â€œthe way things have always beenâ€ than for Jesus and his agenda.