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story.lead_photo.caption LEFT: The Unity Coalition Advisory Committee meets earlier this month in Jonesboro. (Stephen Simpson / Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) RIGHT: In this Aug. 28, 1963, file photo the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledges the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial for his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington, D.C. (AP file photo)

JONESBORO -- Aggie Road has emerged as the leading candidate to be renamed after Martin Luther King Jr. after a vote last week by the City Council's Unity Coalition Advisory Committee, but several hurdles remain for those working to rename a road after the civil-rights leader.

Among those hurdles is making sure Arkansas State University is on board, coalition chairman Charles Coleman said.

"The street runs into Arkansas State University, so we will need to get their approval," he said. "The city will have to approach the campus."

The City Council created the Unity Coalition Advisory Committee in June to find a way to honor King after a proposal to change Johnson Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue was opposed by some council members.

A debate broke out between those who want to honor King by renaming a street after him and those who are concerned about preserving Jonesboro's history.

"It has been a fairly stressful few weeks," said Gary Tate, who opposes renaming any streets. "I have been called a racist and a liar by people from all over. They don't know me though."

"Every street has a history with somebody," Tate said. "I told my kids and my grandkids about the street I lived on as a kid. Also, I feel like we rename one street it's going to open a can of worms for the city where people will keep coming forward with name changes because we set a precedent."

Emma Agnew, another coalition member, said promises were made in 2009 to rename a street after King, and some members believe it's time to get it done.

The coalition used a points system to form the idea of renaming Aggie Road and creating a Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Trail. Other options included naming the planned Commerce Drive extension, renaming all of Commerce Drive and renaming Southwest Drive.

Coalition member Chris Moss called Aggie Road a "compromise street."

"No, it's not Johnson, no it's not Red Wolf, or Caraway, or Southwest Drive as far as visibility," he said. "But I think it gets made up for by the fact it is a historic street. Every time somebody comes to an ASU basketball game or football game, or one of the plays -- or anything, anything at ASU -- when they pull into campus they're going to see MLK over their head at that intersection."

Moss also suggested making historical markers on the signs that acknowledge the historic value of Aggie Road to the campus.

Coleman said when the idea of renaming a street was originally presented to the council, he was confident it would be struck down. The question before the committee now is whether the Aggie Road proposal would be struck down if presented to the council.

"I am not sure if feelings have changed in the committee or not," Coleman said.

The concern is shared by some committee members too.

"I just hope the council co-signs the work we put into this effort, but I don't know," committee member Sandra Combs said.

The council voted unanimously to name the walking and biking trail scheduled to be constructed the Martin Luther King Freedom Trail. The trail would link downtown Jonesboro to the ASU campus, and a section of it will include educational markers dedicated to the civil-rights leader's legacy.

Several members voiced a desire to make the Unity Coalition Advisory Committee a permanent feature as the city continues to grow.

"I think this council can be a really good thing," Lisa Melton said. "I think we all need to be at the table together more often."

State Desk on 08/13/2019

Print Headline: City in northeast Arkansas wants to honor Martin Luther King Jr., but some worry about losing current roads’ history

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