January 15, 2014

Arlington honors Martin Luther King Jr. with 16 sign toppers along Center Street

The city does not have a street named for the slain civil-rights leader, but a sports complex does carry his name.

City officials and a group of pastors from across the city came together Thursday morning to unveil the first of 16 street sign toppers that will honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. along Center Street.

The 6-foot signs, which will go up at eight intersections along Center Street from Randol Mill Road to Pioneer Parkway, are white with a purple border and lettering. They include an iconic image of the slain civil-rights leader and his full name and both titles.

A committee that included Mayor Robert Cluck, Councilman Michael Glaspie and religious leaders considered multiple ideas before settling on this one.

“There were several discussions about where these would go,” Cluck said during a short ceremony outside City Hall. “But the City Council unanimously agreed with Center Street. It’s the center of our community.”

It’s not the full street renaming that the Arlington branch of the NAACP is hoping for, but Glaspie said he believes that what came out of the collaboration is something of which everyone could be proud.

“It gives us the chance to honor a great person who changed our lives,” Glaspie said. “It was a process that we were able to work and agree on, and I think that speaks to King’s can-do legacy. Dr. King got things done and so did our city.”

First Baptist Church of Arlington Pastor Dennis Wiles started the event with a prayer of thanks for King’s legacy and a reminder of what the civil-rights leader meant to the nation.

“I think it’s a beautiful venture between the faith community, city government and the community at large,” Wiles said of the street signs. “We believe Martin Luther King Jr. belonged to all of us, and we thank him for how he changed our country. I think we can all agree that there is only one race: the human race.”

Imogene Waters, an Arlington resident of 50 years, said she is proud to see how far the country has come through King’s efforts.

“It’s a wonderful way to keep him alive,” Waters said. “Our children will be able to remember him and learn about him by asking questions and being told his story. I’ve lived in this city for a while and it’s about time. It’s wonderful.”

Center Street is appropriate because part of it passes through a nationally registered historical area and the city’s original black settlement, said Shirley Adams, a member of both the city’s Landmark Preservation Committee and the MLK Celebration Committee.

“It’s a part of town with a lot of historical significance that’s heavily traveled. To have this in the central part of Arlington will honor Dr. King’s meaning to the city, to the nation and to the world,” Adams said at an NAACP meeting Tuesday night. “Arlington is changing. It’s becoming more diverse, more inclusive. I think this is a really big deal.”

The Arlington NAACP’s executive board does not support the sign toppers, President Alisa Simmons said at the meeting. She also pointed out that the organization, of which she took leadership a year ago, was not invited to be a part of the committee.

“We want a street” named for King, Simmons said.

“Sign toppers are sign toppers. A street is a street,” longtime NAACP member Cheryl Rose said Tuesday night. “Nolan Ryan has a street. To me, sign toppers are not a street.”

Division Street effort

Under different leadership, Arlington NAACP members pushed hard about two years ago for Division Street to be renamed for King.

The group, led by then-President Silk Littlejohn-Gamble, petitioned city and state officials to rename the prominent 8-mile stretch of highway for the slain civil-rights leader.

On a Saturday in late April, dozens of supporters marched down Division Street holding up banners with King’s photo and signs that read, “Promote this vision, End the Division.” The peaceful march ended with a rally at Cowboys Stadium, where supporters spoke about how they believed such a tribute would help unify the community.

Arlington requires at least 80 percent of property owners on a street to sign a petition for a name change before it can be approved by the City Council and implemented. Because Division Street is a state highway, the Texas Transportation Department would also have to sign off on the project.

Opponents have said the name change would place an unfair financial burden on businesses along Division, which would have to update their signs, advertising, business cards and other stationery. The city would also have to spend money replacing dozens of street signs.

Though the city doesn’t have a street named for King, a Martin Luther King, Jr. Sport Center is located in southwest Arlington.

The sports center, built toward the end of former Mayor Elzie Odom’s term in office, was named for MLK at Odom’s urging. The city’s first and only black mayor did not want a street named for King because he felt that it can carry a negative connotation for the part of town the street runs through.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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