In this week of commemoration, it is well to look back at our valley’s experience with naming a local street after Martin Luther King Jr.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, citizens of the Truckee Meadows tried repeatedly to have a major artery named for King. They attended meeting after meeting of street-naming committees and local governing boards. And time after time, they were shot down.
They tried to have the name of Oddie Boulevard, named for a former Nevada governor who was owned lock, stock, and barrel by political boss George Wingfield, renamed for King.
They tried to have Sutro Street, named for a mining tunnel entrepreneur who made his money in Nevada and then left the state (leaving his investors holding the financial bag), renamed for King.
They tried to have McCarran Boulevard, named for an anti-Semitic senator who kept trying to take reservation lands away from Native Americans, renamed for King.
Local officials like then-Sparks Mayor Bruce Breslow said it would be an inconvenience for businesspeople to change the names on their letterheads. Breslow was mayor of a town that changed the name of its main street as part of an economic revitalization project to help downtown businesses.
The endless excuses officials came up with to avoid naming a major surface street for Dr. King became embarrassing. Bob Miller, then Nevada’s governor, publicly chastised Truckee Meadows municipal governments.
The citizens trying to get a street named for King, led by Rev. Onie Cooper of Sparks, broke their picks trying to get it done.
Finally state government stepped in to help, naming a section of highway through Reno for the murdered leader. On May 12, 1998, the Nevada Transportation Board named a section of U.S. 395 through the Truckee Meadows the Martin Luther King Highway.
It was a less than satisfactory answer. It’s just a few miles of a long highway, and even on those miles, the state highway department has never kept its promise to set up seven signs with King’s name along the route, stopping when four were installed. There is simply not the visibility and identification of a major artery with this great leader that there should be.
Many of the officials of that time are no longer in office, and it is time to revisit the issue. Last year, transportation officials were talking about a new ring road, this one farther out around the valley than the first ring, McCarran Boulevard. Perhaps the new ring could be named for King. Or perhaps there is another answer. Anything is better than history remembering the embarrassing way officialdom in this valley worked so hard and so visibly to keep Dr. King’s name off any major surface street.