Nashville is the only major municipality in Tennessee which lacks an MLK memorial street of any kind. Bristol, Chattanooga, Jackson, Knoxville, and Memphis each include a boulevard, drive, or avenue memorializing Dr. King. Our city has a bridge dedicated to MLK, which we should be proud of, and keep, but can we do more? We have an opportunity to create such a roadway designation, in a way that solves a problematic naming scheme for two busy Nashville streets, while honoring Dr. King’s name through neighborhoods which run a full range of racial and economic diversity.
Local creative guru and community activist Lucas Leverett has developed an interesting and thought-provoking proposal that would provide the city with a Martin Luther King Boulevard that would address several issues of traffic and connectivity between a few Nashville neighborhoods, and between TSU and Vanderbilt.
The North end of the proposed MLK Blvd. meets Temple Blvd., Merritt Blvd., and Jefferson Streets, joining existing honorary routes at a key intersection near TSU in an historically African-American district. The proposed re-designation of 28th and 31st avenues creates a continuous 2.25 mile boulevard which would be named for Dr. King. The South end meets Blakemore Avenue and the Natchez Trace, with exposure to the Vanderbilt campus. The route crosses the Francis S. Guess Connector Bridge, fostering an impactful unity of civil rights figures. By intersecting West End Avenue, the proposed MLK Blvd. would be visible to some of Nashville’s highest volumes of vehicle traffic.
“We should all care about recognizing figures in history who helped our culture make as much progress as Dr. King did” says Leverett. “However, as a young, white, middle-class male, I have less stake in this than others might claim. As a resident of the area this would pass through, I know that it would be vastly meaningful to my neighbors, and it would make me proud to see it adding to the cultural richness thereof.”
While various proposals may have been put forth over the years, when asked what’s so great about his present route idea, he says, “the location I propose for this route places it in front of residents and commuters within some of Nashville’s least privileged and most privileged neighborhoods. Yes, it is quite purposeful that I’d like to see this street spanning from TSU to Vandy, in a display of diversity, history, and Civil Rights pride.”
Timing is critical with ideas like this, especially in an era of racially charged politics. Asked about these notions, Leverett’s reply is quite elegant: “Most arguments against this proposal’s primary goal – an MLK Boulevard in Nashville, regardless of my route or some other – cannot conceivably be made without vast insensitivity to race topics, and in this time of high tension in our nation, while our own city wrestles with certain other memorializations, wouldn’t it be nice to honor a Civil Rights hero who has been left out of our streetscape nomenclature for far too long, at this time in our history?”
Some might question his motivation, and if he has a personal stake, and he has an answer: “I would love to run for local office sometime, so yes. Being part of this effort, or being able to push our leaders toward making it a reality, would be a political accomplishment. … One day, yes, it may come up in a list of accomplishments I’ve made in civics in Nashville. But outside of that, this is just “doing a good thing” – and we all should want to engage in our city and do more of that.”