It did so by taking a historic step and designating Lincoln Street — from Wilcox Drive to the John B. Dennis Highway — the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Parkway.
“This is an extremely historic day in Kingsport ... all because of this sign behind me,” said Calvin Sneed, a former Kingsport resident and community contributor to the Times-News.
Members of the African-American community and city officials unveiled one of the two new signs located along Lincoln Street bearing this new designation. It comes on the 90th anniversary of King’s birth — Jan. 15, 1929.
“This is beyond words,” said Pastor Ronnie Collins, the general overseer of the Tennessee/Virginia Fellowship Against Racism organization. “This has been a 22-year journey and it’s come to fruition, but it’s not over yet.”
A 22-YEAR JOURNEY
The journey to which Collins referred dates back to when Kingsport renamed a four-block section of Lincoln Street in the Riverview neighborhood as Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. That was done in 2008 and took about 10 years to accomplish, Collins said.
It took another 11 years for the current designation. But the journey is not over yet. Now, the 2.3 mile section of Lincoln Street will share the “Lincoln Street” name and the “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Parkway” designation.
However, the ultimate goal is for all of Lincoln Street to be officially renamed in honor of King, Collins said.
“We started with a goal in mind and it took time. It took some picketing in the beginning, then we went from a march to today, we do a parade down Center Street,” Collins said. “We’re seeing things happen. We’re not picketing now. We’re sitting around the table talking with the mayor, the city manager. We applaud the city for what they’ve done.”
For years, Kingsport has talked about extending Lincoln Street through the Riverview neighborhood, through Brickyard Park, connecting with Cherokee Street downtown. Sneed said he hopes that will happen within the next two to three years, then the official renaming would take place.
“That would make it one of the longest streets in the country (to bear Dr. King’s name),” Sneed said.
But Kingsport has already made history with Friday’s designation. Sneed said he found more than 900 cities across the country have streets named in honor of Dr. King, yet only five have the civil rights leader’s full name of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which they should, he said.
Plus, only Kingsport has a street named the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Parkway, Sneed said.
“We have the only sign that’s like this anywhere in the country. That’s phenomenal,” Sneed said.
“Designating a memorial to (Dr. King) should not be relegated to the historically segregated African-American community,” City Manager Jeff Fleming said in prepared comments. “It deserves a place of prominence in our city. ... And it’s fitting that Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will now share a street as they shared a common cause in life.”