Local NAACP pushes to rename Johnson Ave. in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jun 18, 2019

Just about anywhere you go, you’ll find a street named after civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Roads named after King can be found around the world.  As of 2014, over 900 streets across the United States are named after him, according to City Lab.  Many cities in Arkansas have roads named in honor of King, including Forrest City and Little Rock.

However, there has been a push to name a road after King in Jonesboro for quite some time, according to Emma Agnew, president of the Craighead County chapter of the NAACP.  The chapter recently had a resolution approved by the Public Works Committee of the Jonesboro City Council to change the names of Johnson and Dan Avenues to “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave.”  The roads go from U.S. Highway 49 at the northeast Jonesboro city limits and connects to Arkansas Highway 91, which goes west and ends at Interstate 555.

“This is the third time this effort has been approached,” Agnew told KASU News. “The first two times it was to no avail.  It didn’t make it out of the Public Works Committee.”

The last time the effort was approached, the result was an overpass crossing I-555 separating Red Wolf and Stadium Blvds.  This time, the Public Works Committee has agreed to push the resolution to the full City Council.

This is a Google Maps screenshot of the roads being proposed to be renamed "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave." in North Jonesboro. The road is highlighted in yellow.
Credit Google

The effort has not been without opposition.  As there were hundreds of signatures in support of the effort, there were also many signatures in opposition to it.  Gary Tate, at the meeting, presented 51 signatures of people not in favor of the effort, according to the committee meeting notes on the city website.  Tate said most of the opposition stems from possible costs that residents and businesses along the roads could incur as a result of the street being renamed.

KASU’s Brandon Tabor spoke with Agnew about why the group is trying again to rename a road in Jonesboro and the concerns residents and businesses have if the resolution passes.  The full city council is expected to take up the proposal Tuesday, June 18 at 5:30 P.M. in the Jonesboro Municipal Building Council Chambers.

---TRANSCRIPT---

BRANDON TABOR, HOST:

Hundreds of streets across the U.S. are named after civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Little Rock, Fayetteville, and Forrest City each have roadways named after King.  Jonesboro has an overpass named after him separating Stadium [Blvd] and Red Wolf [Blvd] over I-555.  That's the result of the last attempt to name a road after King.  But, now the Craighead County chapter of the NAACP is revising the effort, but on a different stretch of road on the north-side.  On the phone I have Emma Agnew.  She's the president of the local NAACP chapter.  Thank you for speaking with me today.

EMMA AGNEW: You're welcome. And thank you Brandon.

TABOR: All right, so I wanted to ask you, I know that this ordinance has been amended slightly. So, could you explain what's going to be renamed as part of this ordinance?

AGNEW: Okay. Well, first of all, I would like to correct you.  It's a resolution, not an ordinance.  And the difference is a resolution is only read one time, and an ordinance [is read] three [times].  But, we are asking for Johnson Avenue in its entirety to be named in honor of Dr. King and that would be from Dan Avenue to just pass the fairgrounds up to the city limit. We're asking for the entire list of Johnson to be named in honor of Dr. King.

TABOR: What will the process of renaming the road be like if it gets approved?

AGNEW: Upon approval, we have included in the resolution that there be a two-year transition period. We took under considerations the businesses and addresses along Johnson [Ave.] that would have to change and we put in there a request for a two-year transition. So for a period of two years the Dr. King Street sign would be placed above the Johnson Avenue sign and during that period, businesses that would like to can continue to use the Johnson Avenue address to give them an opportunity to change out their signage, paperwork, literature and all of that.  So they would have a two-year transition period.

TABOR: At the Public Works Committee [meeting], you told them that you received multiple signatures of support for the effort.  How many signatures have you collected in support of the resolution?

AGNEW: Around 400.

TABOR: 400? Wow!

AGNEW: We started collecting these signatures actually in January, Brandon, at the MLK celebration and a lot of those signatures were gathered at that time and we continued to gather them, you know, for a few more weeks, but we stopped gathering signatures probably in February. We wanted to just be able to show that the NAACP is not the only one interested.  That there are folks in the community who are interested, also.  The names are not a requirement of petition, but it just shows strength and support from the community at large.

TABOR: There are hundreds of roads named after Dr. King and, as I mentioned earlier, Georgia has a good reason [to name a road after Dr. King], Little Rock has a good reason, [Washington] D.C. has a pretty good reason. So why Jonesboro?  Some people would probably say, ‘why I named it after him when instead we could name it after a local Black citizen who's probably done the same things as King, but did it here in Jonesboro or an Arkansan like Daisy Bates or E. Boone Watson?’ Why not name the street after one of them?

AGNEW: Well, hey, we can certainly name a street after one of them.  That doesn't say that we don't need a street named in honor of Dr. King.   Dr. King is a historical figure, as I mentioned, known worldwide and he did so much for the entire country, not just Jonesboro. Jonesboro just happens to be a part of the country.  So, what he did affected Jonesboro as well as Georgia and Alabama and D.C. and everywhere else the streets are named.   It's just important.  If people want to name a local street for a local figure, that's fine, but that doesn't mean that we don't need a street named in honor of Dr. King as well.

TABOR: We have an overpass that's named after Dr. King.  Some people would probably ask why that overpass being named after Dr. King isn't enough. Why are we trying it again? You know, this is the third time as you said and the overpass is over I-555 which gets enough traffic anyway, so why are we trying to rename this street here?

AGNEW: You know what, Brandon? The majority of people don't even realize we have an overpass known for Dr. King because it's not even noticeable, number one. They say ‘is there a sign up?’ Yes, there's a sign up, but it's not recognizable.  It’s not noticeable unless you're looking for it.  It's an overpass. It's not a street. It's like the equivalent of maybe a half of a city block or something, you know.  So, it's very short.  That was done because they didn't want to rename a street in honor of Dr. King. So that was done, you know, I guess as an appeasement at the time, but it's always been my understanding that there would be a street named for Dr. King. It's never been said which one or when, but that's always been my understanding. I think wherever this street is this placed, there are going to be people who are opposed to it. And I don't necessarily think it's a racial thing. There's always opposition when a street naming goes up. So, no matter where it’s put or where it's going to be put, there’s going to be people in opposition.

TABOR: Emma Agnew is the president of the Craighead County chapter of the NAACP. Thank you so much for your time.

AGNEW: Thank you, Brandon.  I appreciate it.