The city is honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with sign toppers along Center Street, the first of which was unveiled at a ceremony Thursday morning outside City Hall.
The 6-foot signs 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, City Manager Trey Yelverton said Tuesday night at the regular meeting of the Arlington branch of the NAACP.
Signs will go up at eight intersections along Center Street from Randol Mill Road to Pioneer Parkway. A committee that included Mayor Robert Cluck, Councilman Michael Glaspie and others met multiple times and discussed several options before settling on this one, Yelverton said, adding that he did not participate in the meetings.
“It’s a street that’s been on the map since Day One,” he said.
Pastors of different races from across the city were also on the committee, city spokeswoman Sana Syed said Wednesday morning.
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 the NAACP meeting. “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. 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,” Cheryl Rose, whose membership in the Arlington NAACP dates to the very beginning, told Yelverton during his informal remarks. “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.
“Center Street has a little bit of everything,” Yelverton said. “It goes through a nationally registered historic place, it goes through a historically black area, it goes by City Hall, it goes by [the University of Texas at Arlington], and while I’d like some of it to look physically better, it’s nothing like Division. I think the committee came up with a good solution there.”
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.