Changing Centennial: Renaming Idea to Honor Martin Luther King Jr. Gets Mixed Reaction

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), February 10, 2003 | Go to article overview

Changing Centennial: Renaming Idea to Honor Martin Luther King Jr. Gets Mixed Reaction


Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

FOR ALMOST A DECADE NOW, Derek Alderman has studied American cities that take on the task of renaming a street for Martin Luther King Jr. He's rarely come across a situation like that in Eugene-Springfield.

"Your case is unique and very interesting," said Alderman, a cultural geographer at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. "You've essentially got two towns who are coming to grips with the question of how best to honor King. It takes the politics to a new level."

Tell us about it.

Momentum is building in Eugene to rename its portion of Centennial Boulevard in honor of King, but Springfield - which oversees more of the roadway and would face a larger burden of renaming it - is hesitant.

It's the latest chapter in the never-ending tale of two cities: A Eugene councilor said her city is responding to the public will, while a Springfield councilor said no one has come forward asking Springfield to follow suit.

Eugene's portion of Centennial rolls right past Autzen Stadium, but relatively few homeowners and businesses would be affected if the street were renamed. In Springfield, Centennial runs through blocks and blocks of tidy homes whose homeowners would have to scrap personalized checkbooks, mailbox signs and anything else with an outdated address.

And, of course, there are the philosophical differences between Eugene, known somewhat as a hippie haven, and Springfield, more of a working-class town with roots in the logging industry.

"It seems like it's ultra-liberal over there," said Matt Eastland, 33, of Springfield. "Separate the two cities - if they want to (change Centennial in Eugene), that's fine."

Objections to renaming streets for King is nothing new, Alderman said.

More than 500 cities across the United States have done it. As more cities rename their streets, some are feeling the backlash from opponents.

Some don't like this change to their identity, their sense of place, Alderman said, and some don't like the controversial civil rights leader.

Many admire King but can't agree on how to pay tribute. Or, if they agree to rename a street, they can't decide whether to choose a beautiful boulevard or one that runs through a low income community such as the ones King hoped to inspire, Alderman said.

Whatever the reason, he added, it's too simplistic to write off opponents as racist.

"There's no doubt that race is an issue, there's no doubt that conservatives tend to see his achievements as less important than more liberal populations," Alderman said. "But it doesn't have to be related to King at all. It's economics, it's cultural identity, it's political philosophy."

Eugene and Springfield politicians, in fact, are careful not to tread on each other's toes over this sensitive subject.

The Eugene City Council voted unanimously last month to begin the process of renaming Centennial Boulevard for King, and the next step is gathering public feedback to make sure the support is there, Councilor Bonny Bettman said. …

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