NewsNation   |  August 23, 2013

Streets bearing MLK’s name often in worst part of town

MSNBC’s Mara Schiavocampo takes a look back at Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy by looking at the streets across the country that bear his name. Later MSNBC’s Al Sharpton and Joy Reid will join NewsNation to discuss how King’s legacy can be honored by protecting voting rights.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> as we approach that anniversary, the 50th of the march on washington , events are being held throughout the nation's capital. we're also looking back at dr. king's legacy. part of it can be found in cities throughout the nation where streets bear his name. sadly, many of the streets are in the worst part of town. i took a closer look at what it's like to live on mlk street. for years melvin white 's postal route took him along st. louis's dr. martin luther king drive, a street that hardly lives up to the dream.

>> crime, poverty, prostitution, drugs.

>> the six-mile stretch has one of the city's highest crime rates , over the years driving away businesses --

>> we had everything. now it's just deteriorating.

>> and visitors.

>> people are afraid to come on martin luther king street because of the danger.

>> just months after dr. king's 1968 assassination, a movement began to honor his legacy with streets bearing his name. today, more than 900 roads in 40 states and washington, d.c. are named after king, but it can be a dubious honor. many of the streets are in poor communities. violence and crime so common they've become a stereotype.

>> if you're on martin luther king boulevard, there's some violence going down. i'm lost, i'm on martin luther king . run!

>> white isn't running from the stigma. he's determined to change it. his nonprofit, beloved streets of america, wants to revitalize mlk streets around the country, starting with st. louis.

>> right now it's a vacant lot.

>> soon to be transformed into a park.

>> this will be the symbol of greater things to come.

>> some mlk streets like new york's mlk boulevard in harlem are in thriving commercial areas in historic neighborhoods, but elsewhere getting a prime location can be an uphill battle . many have faced resistance and can be relegated to obscure parts of the city. derek alderman from the university of tennessee has been studying mlk streets for 15 years.

>> this isn't really just about king. this is about bringing visibility to african- americans , their historical importance and a more broader general way. it goes to the heart of whose histories matter in america.

>> i have a dream today.

>> one of the dr. king's dream was, quote, the creation of the beloved community, a community that for many centers around his legacy.

>> you have to look at these streets as beloved communities and main streets within people's lives.

>> it's about the whole country getting behind an effort and making this a reality and bringing back dr. king's legacy like it's supposed to be represented as.

>> a nation of many mlk streets all leading to the same dream. joining me now, national action network president and host of msnbc's "politics nation," reverend al sharpton and joy reed. rev, i want to start with you. it's been 50 years since the "i have a dream" speech. in what ways has that dream been rae realized and in what ways has it not?

>> in some ways, clearly we've seen great progress. you could attribute a lot of that to dr. king's work and the work of those in the '60s. the fact that we now sit in a nation with a black president and a black attorney general and black ceos of major corporations and the cultural figures that set the trends. you know, there was a time that elvis was a big star and james brown was the black star . now the black stars are the stars. they're elvis and james brown . so in the curl churl arena -- and oprah winfrey in the television world. you've seen a lot of breakthroughs. but when you look in mass, you do not see the differences that we used to have reconciled yet. blacks are still doubly unemployed to whites as they were 50 years ago. blacks still are incarcerated more at the same averages they were 50 years ago, charged with the same crime. we still are fighting state laws that in many ways deny federal civil rights laws. stand your ground , for example, in florida. and we'll be talking about this at the march tomorrow. stand your ground is a state law that has nullified the federal civil right for trayvon martin to walk home and not have anyone interrupt that. so i think that there is a long way to go in terms of our economic standing, in terms of the masses. i think there's a long way to go in terms of our dealing with those state laws that try to undermine it. the most egregious is that we are now even seeing a regression in our voting rights . when we look at the supreme court taking out section four, we look at north carolina and texas and other states trying to come with voter suppression schemes, we are not only going -- not moving forward in some areas, we are threatened with going backwards. this is the first time in 48 years that we don't have preclearance in the justice department before districts or states with histories of discrimination can do anything. that has never happened before . that alone is a reason for this march tomorrow.

>> and joy, you hear some of the economic indicators that rev speaks about, about not having made progress in the last five decades. it really is quite shocking. i want to read you some other numbers. a recent poll found that 54% of adults think people are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. when you break it down by race, it looks very different. 59% of whites agree with that statement. only 19% of african- americans agree. what do those numbers tell you?

>> i think there is a growing disparity on issues of race. it's been particularly acute since barack obama 's election. sort of the irony, i guess, of having this first black president is it is both a sign of progress, and it seems to be the thing that kind of kicked open the doors to the really uglier side of the racial conversation. blacks and whites do not perceive the country the same way. they don't perceive progress the same way and don't even perceive race relations the same way. there's this growing gap. i think it is not all african- americans or all white americans who have this sort of disagreement. but the most acute and loudest voices. i think it's partly a political conversation because barack obama is a democrat, because he's perceived as also liberal. it's ignited really something ugly. but in a way, i think that had to happen. i think having an african-american elected to the white house was going to create some racial tumult. because we didn't have truth and reconciliation like they did in south africa , we have to go through this ugly period to get to a coherent conversation where we're all on the same page.

>> reverend sharpton, one of the ongoing battles for civil rights around the country is the right for same-sex marriage. what do you think dr. king's position would be on that issue?

>> i don't know that anyone could predict what he would think on any given issue. certainly martin iii and others have stated theirs. i think there are those of us that are out now in the front of civil rights groups and movements who have said you cannot have segregated civil rights movements . you have to be for everyone's civil rights or you're for no ones. people have the right to do whatever they want to do, even if you disagree with it. to say that someone has a right does not mean you have to give consent. i tell that to preachers all the time. but it means that they have a right to disagree with you. i think that whether it's the lgbt community , whether it's women, whether it's immigration, we must consistently fight for people's rights, and they will be among the speakers tomorrow.

>> thank you both so much for your time. reverend sharpton mentioned the events taking place tomorrow. be sure to catch