A street fit for a King

Site established to spread information and research on the (re)naming of streets for slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. with the hope of informing public debate

If you use any information or statistics from this site, please cite the source as: Derek Alderman, Professor of Geography, University of Tennessee, Knoxville TN  

Email: dalderma@utk.edu, Twitter: @MLKStreet 

Naming streets is one of the most widespread and contentious ways of commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.  Debates over whether to name a street for King and which specific street to identify with him have led to the boycott of businesses, protest marches, court actions, petition drives, the vandalizing of roads, and even activists chaining themselves to street signs.  Honoring King with a street name is often controversial when the road in question challenges long-standing racial and economic boundaries within communities. 

While few scholars have studied the King street naming phenomena, the naming process is an important indicator of local political tensions as well as broader debates about race, memory, and place in America.  I have studied the politics of naming streets after King for the past several years, seeking to understand the obstacles that face street naming proponents and the various strategies that communities have pursued in finding a street fit for remembering King. In many instances (but not all), public opposition has led King's name to be socially and geographically marginalized within cities, which has worked to stigmatize these streets and create public anxiety about renaming more prominent streets. 

As a cultural geographer, my work stresses the importance that location--the street's site, situation, and scale within the city's larger social landscape--plays in shaping the meaning of King's commemoration.    Believing that my research and perspectives can be of some help to the public, I have set up this web page as a resource for engaging and assisting the movement to remember the civil rights leader.  Below are some research papers that I have written about naming streets for King.

Publications Related to MLK Place/Street Naming

Mitchell, Jerry and Derek H. Alderman. 2014. "A Street Named for a King: A Lesson in the Politics of Place-Naming." Social Education 78(3): 137-142.


Alderman, Derek H. and Joshua F.J. Inwood. 2013. "Street Naming and the Politics of Belonging: Spatial Injustices in the Toponymic Commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr." Social & Cultural Geography 14(2): 211-233.

Dwyer, Owen J. and Derek H. Alderman. 2008. Civil Rights Memorials and the Geography of Memory.  Book from Center for American Places and University of Georgia Press.


Alderman, Derek H. 2008. "Martin Luther King, Jr. Streets in the South: A New Landscape of Memory." Southern Cultures 14(3): 88-105.


Alderman, Derek H., Steve Spina, and Preston Mitchell. 2008. "A Bumpy Road: the Challenges of Naming Streets for Martin Luther King, Jr." Planning 74(1): 18-21. Contribution to American Planning Association magazine.


Alderman, Derek H. and Preston Mitchell. 2007. "A Sign of Changing Times: A Street Renaming Lesson from Chapel Hill, North Carolina." Public Management  89(6): 37-38. Contribution to International City/County Management Association magazine as part of special feature entitled Street Naming: Not as Easy as You Might Think..


Mitchelson, Matthew, Derek H. Alderman, Jeff Popke. 2007. "Branded: The Economic Geographies of MLK Streets." Social Science Quarterly 88(1): 120-145.


Alderman, Derek H. 2006. "Naming Streets after Martin Luther King, Jr.: No Easy Road." In Landscape and Race in the United States, Routledge Press (edited by Richard Schein), pp. 213-236.


Alderman, Derek H. 2003. "Street names and the scaling of memory: The politics of commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. within the African-American community." Area 35 (2): 163-173.


Alderman, Derek H. 2002. "Street Names as Memorial Arenas: The Reputational Politics of Commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. in a Georgia County.Historical Geography 30: 99-120.


Alderman, Derek H. 2002. "School Names as Cultural Arenas: The Naming of U.S. Public Schools after Martin Luther King, Jr." Urban Geography 23(7): 601-626.


Alderman, Derek H. 2000.  "A Street fit for a King: Naming Places and Commemoration in the American South.Professional Geographer 52(4): 672-684.


Alderman, Derek H.  1996. "Creating a New Geography of Memory in the South: The (Re) Naming of Streets in Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr."  Southeastern Geographer 36(1): 51-69.

MLK Street Naming Educational Pamphlet

Electronic copy (pdf) of community outreach pamphlet on MLK street naming (produced 2005). Note data are now old. Pamphlet distributed to various schools, activists groups, and civil rights; national meetings of the NAACP and SCLC; and MLK Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia.

Outside cover of pamphlet

Inside content of pamphlet 

Where are streets named for King located?

If you want specific statistics on the number and location of MLK streets, please contact me. Do not use map without permision, please.

About Me

Derek Alderman

Professor of Cultural and Historical Geography and Head of the Department of GeographyUniversity of Tennessee-Knoxville

(formerly affiliated with East Carolina University) 

Copy of CV/Resume


Academia.edu Page 

Book on Civil Rights Memorials and Street Naming

Email me at: dalderma@utk.edu

Follow on: @MLKStreet


MLK Street Naming Online Resources

Martin Luther King Streets Project

Seattle Times: Roadways Across America

MLK Blvd: Photo Journalism Project

New Georgia Encyclopedia Entry on MLK Streets

Along Martin Luther King (Interview with author Jonathan Tilove)

Beloved Streets of America (organization devoted to revitalizing MLK streets)

MSNBC Story on MLK Streets (Aug. 2013)

Film Project on MLK Street in San Diego (project also has Facebook page)

Radio interview with Virginia Insight (NPR program) on MLK street naming

Wikipedia Site on MLK Streets




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