The D.C. Council voted unanimously Thursday to create a “Martin Luther King Drive,” symbolically renaming a four-mile stretch of city streets and highways after the late civil rights leader.
In an emotional boost for Council member Marion Barry (D), 12 of 13 council members showed up at a hastily organized council meeting to support the designation. The newly named highway will connect Southeast with the new Martin Luther King Memorial on The Mall, which is slated to open in late August.
“Dr. King was not just an African-American leader, he was a leader for American, progressive people,” said Barry, the sponsor of the bill. “We ought to be proud of us here in the nation’s capital.”
Under city law, the symbolic designation would be “in addition to and subordinate to” the current, official names for the thoroughfares. But new signs will be printed designating the new stretch for King.
The new drive would stretch from the northern end of the current Martin Luther King Ave. SE, in Barry’s ward, across the 11th Street bridge complex, down the Southeast/Southwest freeway to the Maine Avenue exit, and then down Independence Avenue past the new memorial to its western terminus near the Potomac River.
Barry said the new signs will be printed soon, clearly marking the new drive. The signs will then be affixed to existing road signs in time for the official unveiling of the King Memorial on Aug. 28, Barry said.
“Whatever the costs, the Department [of Transportation] will absorb it,” said Barry, a former civil rights activist who worked with King before he was assassinated in 1968. “We are doing what is right…Can you imagine those people coming from Maryland and Virginia and Martin Luther King Drive?”
As a youth civil rights leader in the 1960s, Barry said King “had a major personal” impact on his life and helped persuade him to get into politics. Barry has twice before proposed naming similar stretches of roadway after King, without success.
But hundreds of thousands of people are expected to flock to the District later this summer for the opening of the memorial, prompting the council to approve the emergency legislation. The vote was a major legislative victory for Barry, who often struggles to get his initiatives through the council.
“It makes my heart beat fast that 12 of the 13 members were here,” Barry said.