A pedestrian walks along Martin Luther King Drive under the Coleman Underpass. Photo by Scott Ball.
A pedestrian walks along Martin Luther King Drive under the Coleman Underpass. Photo by Scott Ball.

San Antonians driving in the Eastside today might notice new street signs at 13 intersections on Martin Luther King Drive. The bright signs now feature the likeness of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and are complimented by at least 30 permanent MLK, Jr. Commission pole banners that indicate the MLK March route and have iconic quotes from the reverend printed in bold lettering.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools,” reads one such banner.

MLK Drive will host an anticipated 150,000 people on Monday, Jan. 18 for what’s expected to be the largest MLK March in the nation. DreamWeek San Antonio and the Commission’s King Week, event calendars hosting cultural, historical, and civil-rights themed events, are already in full swing building momentum towards the march.

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The City allocated $50,000 for the signage improvements which includes the installation of a large mural, “Dream Peace,” at the Coleman Crossing on MLK Drive. The mural was designed by student artists taking part in the Mosaic program at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, and renowned muralist and art educator Alex Rubio. City crews will also be traversing the march route for the annual clean up in the days leading up to the march.

The new signage is meant to physically signify the MLK March route as well as inspire the community, young and old, to carry MLK’s words and actions with them and take them to heart throughout the year, said Councilman Alan Warrick (D2) during an unveiling ceremony on Monday morning. He said he has initiated the process of extending MLK Drive almost one mile further east, which currently stops at North W.W. White Road, to Interstate 410.

The branding campaign is all part of the critical “knowledge transfer” between generations, MLK Commission Chair Brandon Logan said during the ceremony in Pittman-Sullivan Park. “We need to get (new generations) to understand and connect with what took place during the civil rights movement.”

Warrick and Logan were joined by several prominent local African-American City and community leaders.

“What’s in a name?” asked longtime Eastside resident and business owner Charles Williams about the struggle to get the City and community support to change a major street’s name in honor of the late civil rights leader. Nebraska Street became Martin Luther King Drive in 1976. “It’s about power, sunshine, and motivating” young people to appreciate hard-fought civil rights.

Williams asked attendees to stand up from their seats.

“We all stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said to praises from the small crowd.

Williams cited the work of Rev. Claude Black, T.C. Calvert Sr., and other “giants” that laid the groundwork for the current revitalization efforts in the historically low-income Eastside, home to the largest concentration of African-Americans in San Antonio.

“This is the decade of the Eastside,” said Mike Etienne, director of the City’s EastPoint office. “Crime on the Eastside has gone down 2% since 2014.”

But new signage is just the tip of the iceberg of the Eastside’s problems with crime and vagrancy.

“I just saw six stray dogs driving here, so there’s still a ton of work ahead,” he said. “Zero stray dogs, zero murders, zero vacant homes, and zero percent unemployment are still our focus. This is just to highlight the community. (These improvements) help people in the community see it as a place where they could possibly raise a family, where they could possibly come down here and get a meal … as opposed to the Eastside just not even getting consideration.”

State Sen. José Menéndez called on the community to remember that MLK Day is not just a “day off” – it’s a “day on.” He pledged to take up issues of voting rights, poverty, and health care with his colleagues in the legislature.

“(MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech) was a speech that requires action,” he said, adding that MLK Day is the perfect opportunity for the community to show its true colors and unite around the principles of nonviolence and social equity that MLK dreamed of.

Related Stories:

Martin Luther King III Kicks off DreamWeek 2016

DreamWeek and King Week: Can There Be Only One?

MLK, Jr. Commission Now Accepting Nominations for 2016 Awards

Warrick Apologizes for Plan to Reroute MLK March

Reflection on the March: Why San Antonio Has One of the Biggest MLK Day Parades

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org