“A Nightmare on Elm Street” has long thrilled audiences with its campy terror, disfigured gruesome villain and tawdry sexual innuendo. One of the most successful horror franchise, “Elm Street” has been the avenue that has led to ghastly nightmares for those who seen the films. Black people love horror films, for they are frequently cast in minor roles that grant them the opportunity to show off their thespian skills by having the ignoble task of being the first character killed. It is a well known fact that a Black person must be killed off first in a horror film, or else it cannot be classified in that particular film genre:
“Being a black person in a horror movie isn’t easy. You’re rarely the hero, hardly ever the villain, and more often than not you end up dead.”
“Elm Street” might be the origin of thousands of nightmares for people across the country, but this fictitious street is incapable of invoking the palpable fear that appears when people approach a real street that’s ubiquity across the nation rivals Starbuck’s. Martin Luther King, the man behind the MLK Brand, eponymously adorns hundreds of streets, avenues and lanes across the United States:
“Streets named after Martin Luther King, Jr. can be found in many cities of the United States and in nearly every major metropolis in America. There are also a number of other countries that have honored King, including no fewer than ten cities in Italy. The number of streets named after King is increasing every year, and about 70% of these streets are in Southern states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas. King’s home state of Georgia had the most, with 75 streets as of 2001; this had increased to 105 as of 2006. As of 2003, there were over 600 American cities that had named a street after King. By 2004, this number had grown to 650, according to the NPR. In 2006, Derek Alderman, a cultural geographer at East Carolina University, reported the number had increased to 730, with only 11 states in the country without a street named after King.”
Black people find these streets so desirable an address that they frequently have addresses that reflect their admiration for the MLK Brand, as the Martin Luther King streets have an overwhelming Blackness to them:
Black comedian Chris Rock tells a joke that goes something like this: When a white friend told Chris Rock that he was on a street called Martin Luther King and asked what he should do, Chris Rock answered, “Run!” At another time and on a more serious note, Rock said: “I don’t care where you live in America, if you’re on Martin Luther King Boulevard, there’s some violence going on.” He is right… The black part of town that King Street passes through here in St. Petersburg, where I live and work, is a corridor of broad dilapidation, abandoned structures, vacant lots with junked vehicles and trash and debris, black-on-black violence, drug trafficking, public drinking, rudeness, indolence. Even worse, perhaps, most of the viable businesses on this stretch of MLK are owned by people other than blacks — a testament to black powerlessness. For many black communities, the streets named for King are their main streets. In some places, such as St. Petersburg, many white people use King street to travel to and from their homes each day, to and from work each day, to take their kids to and from school each day. And what do these white people see? In some parts of St. Petersburg, a wasteland. Out of fear, they stop only when traffic lights or wrecks or other roadblocks stop them. Why else would they stop? For the same reason as whites — fear — many blacks also avoid the King streets in their cities.”
The businesses that are owned by individuals along MLK Drives, MLK BLVDs and MLK Avenues lack Black ownership for reasons that have nothing to do with Black powerlessness, but everything to do with saving money for the future (Black people know true Black feebleness is to be found in Haiti). Take for instance this story from that Blackest of cities, Baltimore, where a Martin Luther King Parade near Martin Luther King Boulevard ended in a fitting tragedy that Shakespeare would have found difficult to properly write:
“A 19-year-old man was fatally shot in the face and two men were arrested on drug charges after fleeing police in separate incidents that occurred near the route for Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, according to Baltimore police.
About 2:30 p.m., after the parade had finished but with roads still shut down, an off-duty officer near the 600 block of W. Hoffman St. said he heard gunshots. Officers found a man inside an apartment in the 1000 block of Pennsylvania Ave., about two blocks from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds to his face and chest.”
This sad demise of yet another Black person(happened yesterday) along the aptly named Martin Luther King Boulevard has been repeated so many times in different states, that the death toll rivals “Elm Street’s” combined body count. Yet the immutable bond that holds the tragedies together can be traced to the MLK Brand, for these streets are to found in areas where Blackness is a foregone conclusion, and whiteness is but the state of the faces of those who drive past these streets fearing for their safety. In some places, renaming streets for the MLK Brand is so important that millions must be spent, while crime rages on unimpeded in the process. Black people can even procure a book that chronicles white people braving the plethora of MLK streets across the nation:
“Jonathan Tilove, the Newhouse news service journalist whose coverage of race and immigration many consider the best and fairest in Big Media, has teamed up with photographer Michael Falco to create a small coffee-table book called Along Martin Luther King: Travels on Black America’s Main Street. The two (white) men visited a sizable fraction of the 650 streets named after Dr. King—and returned with a valuable impressionistic portrait of the blackest streets in black America. A dozen years ago, during the worst of the decade-long murder spree kicked off by the introduction of crack cocaine in the mid-1980s, undertaking this project would have been slightly nuts for a man like Tilove who has a wife and kids.”
It would be an enterprising endeavor if a camera-crew and an engaging interviewer would venture across the nation and produce a mini-series about the MLK streets that Google Maps can only show us:
“In 2002, on King’s birthday (and a few days before King’s national holiday), a teenager shot and wounded two students at – of all places – Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Manhattan. In 2004, in broad daylight, a hail of bullets left both dead and wounded victims on 125th Street (renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) and Madison Avenue in Harlem. “His streets are only in ghettos,” said Tisa McNeil, a hairstylist at the Harlem Berry Beauty Lounge, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Harlem. “It’s a racial thing. It all boils down to racism.”
There is no way to win this argument with Black people. It is racist if you name a street for the MLK Brand, and it is even worse if you fail to name a street for him. Thankfully, some Disingenuous White Liberals are working hard to overcome the stereotype that even Chris Rock fell for regarding MLK streets, by gentrifying the houses along Martin Luther King Way in Seattle and pricing out the Blackness by making mortgages inaccessible to Black people’s pocket books:
“Fifteen years ago, when the time came for Seattle to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Karen Yoshihara had doubts about the chosen road: a no-nonsense eight-mile stretch that offered a straight shot through impoverished neighborhoods, a fading business district and a warehouse-lined industrial area. Unlike the merchants who complained about the cost of changing their addresses, Yoshihara had another objection: She thought the road wasn’t good enough for the man being honored. “At the time I thought there might have been a more appropriate stretch of road,” said Yoshihara, 55, who has lived near King Way since 1972. “It’s not exactly the most beautiful street. It just didn’t seem a fitting memorial.” Today, Yoshihara says she was wrong. Over the years, as she has seen the street transformed, she has had a change of heart. “Maybe Dr. King would have been proud,” said Yoshihara while stopping at a doughnut shop near the Martin Luther King Jr. Market, where she works as a checker. “Now, I can’t imagine it being called anything but Martin Luther King Way.” Named after a man whose primary legacy was his vision for a better future, the street itself seemed for years to have no future. Its houses were dilapidated, businesses were closing, and fear of crime – real and perceived – kept many people away… George Noble, owner of Green Stone Properties, a real-estate agency based on King Way, said that when he started his business in 1984, the area was roughly 70 percent black, 20 percent white and 10 percent Asian. Now Asians make up about 30 to 40 percent of property owners, and blacks just 50 percent. “I don’t sell that many properties on this street to African Americans now,” said Noble, who is black. “Most of my clients are Asians.” As Martin Luther King Jr. Way has been revitalized, so have property values. Many African Americans are leaving, moving to southern suburbs like Renton or Kent, where they can buy bigger houses for less money, Noble said.”
The Seattle Times – a major DWL paper – did an incredible of chronicling MLK Brand streets, and we at SBPDL encourage you to read all these stories of hope. Stuff Black People Don’t Like will include Martin Luther King Jr. Streets, Avenues and Lanes, for these thoroughfares offer an insight into the state of Black America that might open more white eyes than the events unfolding in Haiti. Not even Freddie Krueger offers as many frights as a drive down MLK Lane. Just be sure to lock your doors.