A Legacy of Streets: Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Scarlett Davis
“Although the photographs from the movement are often filled with violence, defiance, or determination, the streets today are mostly quiet.” ~ Susan Berger
This Monday, the US celebrates the life and legacy of civil rights activist, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. who would have been 89 years old today. Amidst a time of great political division, Martin Luther King’s teachings of peace, love, and equality for all is needed now more than ever. Photographer, Susan Berger, strives to capture the essence of true Americana in her body work, with a candor likened to Robert Frank and Walker Evans.
Back in 2009, the photographer embarked on a cross country project to photograph the streets named in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s honor in cities from New Orleans, to Philadelphia, to Los Angeles. With little direction other than her GPS, the photographer ventured city to city, capturing what she saw with no agenda, choosing to see neighborhoods and signs of life over anything else. Ultimately her photos leave us to answer the paramount question: where is the best place to commemorate a man like Martin Luther King?
In Philadelphia, the street is central and runs through a park where people and runners gather. In Jackson, Mississippi the street leads to the Capitol building, and in places like Beaumont Texas, the street is a country road. There are over 900 MLK streets in the country. Years after the assassination of MLK in 1968, President Ronald Reagan ordained King’s birthday as a national holiday in 1983. The first street named after him was in Chicago, the photographer’s home city. Berger also included photos from the hotbed cities during the civil rights movement like Montgomery and Selma, Alabama.
Today most of the streets fail to live up to Martin Luther’s King’s dream, and the cycle of poverty and inequality that he fought against continues. Recent action has been taken for the streets to live up to their namesake. A group called Beloved Streets of America has made moves to transform the streets to draw in tourist with a plan to improve and renovate sites and neighborhoods with new development projects to preserve Martin Luther King's Legacy of a society based on love, equality, and non-violence.
The hard truth remains in the broken fences and in the abandoned buildings. The twin evils of poverty and racism continue to live on in this country, despite King’s last efforts before his all too untimely death in his “Poor People’s Campaign” to empower the underrepresented and disadvantaged of this country. We have to remember King’s words, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” We may not have to agree on everything, in fact our differing in opinions are part of what makes us Americans, but we do have to listen to one another and treat each other with dignity and respect. Moreover, when we see injustice, we have to stand up for one another in any way we can. Unlike Berger’s photos, our problems are not black and white; progress and change is going to take time and effort, as we have only begun to see and comprehend the problems, which are so deeply rooted.