The Starting Line – Looking Back on When San Diego Said ‘No’ to Honoring Martin Luther King


By Doug Porter

The year was 1986, and San Diego, like much of the nation, was swept up in a national discussion about a new holiday commemorating MLK’s contribution to US history.  Legislation (signed three years earlier) making Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday was going into effect, and many cities around the country were honoring the slain civil rights leader by naming streets and buildings after him.

It seemed like a no-brainer for the San Diego City Council, then led by Mayor Maureen O’Connor.  After some deliberation they announced that Market Street would be renamed Martin Luther King Way. From the LA Times:

In picking Market Street, the council chose one of the city’s most visible and symbolic roadways for the King honor. Starting at the bay, the street is straddled within a couple of blocks by the promising signs of downtown renaissance–Seaport Village, Horton Plaza, the site of the new waterfront convention center–and runs east through the warehouse and business district on the fringes of the Gaslamp Quarter.

It goes past the Gateway Center–the new redevelopment-inspired industrial park in Southeast San Diego–and ends among the houses in Encanto, just before 60th Street. Along the way is a potpourri of urban life, including brightly colored Mexican food joints, a 24-hour prayer chapel, small office buildings and auto garages, with piles of exposed car parts.

The roadway is also close to or goes through neighborhoods that are heavily black and low income, according to statistics from the 1980 U.S. Census. Of the 41,500 people living in census tracts along King Way, 41% are black, compared to the city’s average of 8.8%. The median household income is $11,294–$511 less than the citywide average.

Market Street wasn’t the first choice of a roadway for re-naming. City Manager Sylvester Murray originally suggested Euclid Avenue, which cuts through a wide variety of neighborhoods in its five mile length, starting at El Cajon Boulevard and ending in National City. The protests from residents along the original route should have served as an omen for what was to come.  Again, from the LA Times:

But residents along the route mounted an angry protest, including objections to King’s tactics and mission. Under pressure, the council set aside Murray‘s recommendation and voted in April, 1986, to change the name of Market Street, as well as a stretch of local highway that is yet to be determined.

The reaction of merchants along Market Street, spurred on by developers eyeing redevelopment possibilities, was strongly negative. Claiming that they’d been excluded from the decision making process, they organized the Keep Market Street Initiative Committee and delivered nearly eighty thousand signatures to the city clerk, a move that put the question, eventually known as Proposition F, on the November ballot.

Black community leaders felt that the impetus behind the campaign was racism, pure and simple. From the LA Times:

 “I’m sure it’s going to be a big fight. Basically, it comes down to a simple matter of black and white,” said Willie Morrow, a black community leader and owner of California Curl, a cosmetics company on the eastern end of King Way.

 “They can sugar-coat it any way they want to, but that’s what it is. What they are saying is, ‘Dr. King was a great person who should be honored as long as it’s not in my neigborhood.’ No one on our end of the street is complaining. It’s only the people downtown,” Morrow said.

 The Rev. George Walker Smith, pastor of Christ United Presbyterian Church, called the initiative a symbol of the “negative attitude that white folks here have toward King and other things. There’s no secret a lot of people who are behind this are red-necked racists, and you can quote me.”

MLK3bThe Proposition F campaign denied the charges of racism. They claimed their goal was to retain the ‘historic’ Street name (it was renamed as Market Street in 1915) and that the expense of reprinting stationary and other business materials was a burden on small businesses.

“A myth and . . . a fraud has been perpetrated for the purpose of defeating our initiative,” Tod Firotto, president of the Keep Market Street Committee, said about the charges of racism. “It’s a difficult fraud to expose.”

“The initiative doesn’t have anything to do with Dr. King,” said Firotto. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the black community. The initiative was a reaction to the lack of recognition and the loss of heritage” in changing Market Street.

“Don’t kill somebody else’s heritage for the sake of his (King’s),” Firotto said. “He wouldn’t want that.”

 In the end, Proposition F passed with nearly 60% of the voters approving it.  Local activists staged a protest. Again, from the LA Times:

 Chanting “We Shall Overcome,” more than 600 protesters marched through downtown San Diego Sunday to express their outrage at voters’ decision to restore the name of Market Street to the thoroughfare now known as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

The protesters held a mock funeral for King Way, which will revert to its former name, Market Street, as voters called for in last Tuesday’s election. They accused San Diegans of racism.

 Finally, an interesting footnote from the same article [Emphases mine]:

Meanwhile, two Democrats and two Republicans were elected Tuesday to four open seats on the eight-person San Diego City Council.

The new council members–architect Ron Roberts, political aide Wes Pratt, lawyer Bruce Henderson and history professor Bob Filner–won in one of the most expensive council races in city history

(Thanks to former LA Times photographer –and old friend– Vince Compagnone for sending along the pictures and bringing this to my attention.)

 San Diego School Board to Weigh in on Nukes, Mental Health

school-guns_CTDe5You can expect a blast from the editorial board at the SD-UT aim at the San Diego Unified School Board soon, as the trustees are taking up two issues today sure to garner controversy.

The Board will consider a resolution proposed by Trustees Richard Barrera and Kevin Beiser saying:

 “the San Diego Unified School District believes restarting the defective Unit 2 nuclear reactor at San Onofre will have profound impacts on our children in San Diego Unified and the surrounding communities in the event of a nuclear accident regarding radiation contamination of air, water and food, evacuation plans, and long term viability of life in Southern California.”

The proposed resolution also urges a California Public Utilities Commission investigation into the reliability and costs of the nuclear plant, especially compared to alternative energy sources.

Activist Martha Sullivan, with the Coalition to Decommission San Onofre, told 10News that San Diego Unified is the first school district to consider the issue although seven Southern California city councils have passed similar resolutions.

When asked why schools would step into the fray, Sullivan said, “The district is responsible for those kids… for evacuating them, for sheltering them in place, for food which very well may be contaminated.

Police Chief Landsdown and Mayor Filner will join with the SDUSD Trustees today in announcing what is being called a comprehensive plan to prevent gun violence on district campuses. The resolution calls for re-instatement of the Federal ban on assault weapons, support for support of President Obama’s “Now is the Time” plan to reduce gun violence and expanded mental health screenings and services for troubled youth.

“There are just too many cracks in the mental health system and that’s what we’re trying to call attention to,” said School Board President John Evans in an interview with 10News.  “What we can do in the short run is really train teachers to just be aware of some of the warning signs and to reach out to parents and the community when they see something going on in which a student might need help.”

 Evans, who is a mental health professional, said the San Diego Psychological Association has agreed to offer its services, free of charge, to train teachers and counselors on at-risk students and where they and their families can go for help.

 Evans pointed out that nearly all the school shooters, from Columbine High School to Sandy Hook Elementary, showed signs of mental issues that were recognized, but not acted upon.

City to Earth Day: Move It or Lose It

parks closedEarthworks founder Carolyn Chase has posted a letter at Voice of San Diego saying the 24th Annual Earth Day won’t be held in Balboa Park this year.  The City of San Diego has thus far denied the group permits, citing construction associated with a new parking garage and traffic pattern for the park. From VOSD:

 What’s it really about? Competition for public resources… This story is as old as the story of city parks. This competition has to be managed fairly, and the Master Plans set out how uses are to be balanced. The “museums and restaurants” have publicly-subsidized space. And the policy balance for having such special, day-to-day access and benefits – is to allow access to common public spaces by special events under reasonable conditions. In fact, this is why December Nights exists — once a year when the public is invited inside and out, for free. In fact, these events bring new people to the Park to discover the museums and return on other days.


 For 20+ years, we had few problems with permitting because the park staff managed access to the public spaces as a balance. But in the past few years, events have been pushed out. They denied the Earth Day 2012 permit, until our City Council questioned “Park & Rec” staff directly during a public hearing. This year we’re being told we can’t use the Central Mesa in essence because a parking lot is being closed.  With no construction scheduled, that’s the only construction-related impact during Earth Day. The Organ Pavilion lot has 387 spaces. Nearby are 1049 spaces. During the year, these lots are never full, except during special events. During EarthFair, we run free shuttles to thousands of additional spaces.

 Closing parking lots is routine for large events and should not be a reason for having no events. The construction project is being used as a whipping boy to push Earth Day out. Worst of all, there’s no guarantee that we’ll ever be allowed back in. If construction is the excuse, construction will still be happening in 2014.

Sorry, Phil Mickelson, the Cat’s Out of the Bag

A statement by pro Phil Mickelson picked up by the media after the closing rounds of the Humana Challenge golf tournament about his personal tax situation has ballooned into a local controversy. Late Monday Mickelson released a statement attempting to walk back from earlier reports that he was contemplating leaving California because his tax burden was too high.

“I absolutely love what I do.  I love and appreciate the game of golf and the people who surround it.  I’m as motivated as I’ve ever been to work on my game, to compete and to win championships.

 “Finances and taxes are a personal matter and I should not have made my opinions on them public. I apologize to those I have upset or insulted and assure you I intend to not let it happen again

It was too late. ‘Tax Fighter’ Richard Rider had already gone public, claiming vindication for right wing theology that asserts taxes are driving prosperity out of the Golden State.

And our own UT-San Diego editorialized:

California voters’ decision to pass Proposition 30 in November – raising sales taxes on everyone and sharply hiking income taxes on the wealthy – doesn’t deserve the gushing praise it’s won from some in the media. Tax changes that encouraged investment and job creation would have made far more sense. Brown’s measure reinforces the extreme volatility in revenue that has created the disastrous boom-and-bust cycle in state budgeting. It also creates yet another incentive for the wealthy, especially job-creating small-business owners, to flee.

We’re sure Mickelson’s decision will spur the derision that those on the left habitually direct at very successful people. But Mickelson should do what’s best for his family. We are certain he is far from the only “1 percenter” who feels taken for granted by the Golden State – and that he will be only one of many to leave.

Let me be the first to explain that the ‘derision’ on the ‘left’ is actually astonishment that anybody would actually act on political and economic mythology that has been thoroughly debunked. Millionaires are more likely leave California because of divorce proceedings than tax increases. ‘Taxifornia’ created led the nation in job creation over the past year.

About the Inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama

pres on a rollI certainly didn’t anticipate that the President would chose his second Inaugural Address to give what was perhaps the most important gay-rights speech in American history. These speeches are, by their definition, important and defining occasions, when Presidents set the tone and direction for the coming four years. President Obama used the occasion to make the first direct reference to gay-rights in an Inaugural Address, and he did so with a power and forthrightness we have not heard before, even from him. From The New Yorker:

About two-thirds of the way into the speech, Obama referred to Stonewall, a gay bar where, in 1969, a police raid provoked a riot, in the same sentence as Seneca Falls and Selma—thus comparing the women’s and African-American civil-rights movements to the gay-rights struggle. Had he stopped there, it would have been historic—particularly coming from the first African-American President—but, in keeping with the tradition of politicians who refer to gay-rights obliquely or with code words, stopping short of directness.

But the President continued:

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

I, for one, was happy that the President no longer feels the need to start his second term by offering an olive branch to Republicans.  He’s tried that for the past four years. They had their chance, and opted to put their energies into making him a one term president. They lost. Elections have consequences.

Meanwhile, our own Darrell Issa hasn’t gotten the memo:

“The words were code for a progressive agenda. I’m hoping that the president will recognize that compromise should have been the words for today, and they clearly weren’t”

On This Day: 1963 – The Drifters recorded “On Broadway.” 1973 – The U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws that had been restricting abortions during the first six months of pregnancy. The case (Roe vs. Wade) legalized abortion. 1997 – The U.S. Senate confirmed Madeleine Albright as the first female secretary of state.

Eat Fresh! Today’s Farmers’ Markets: Coronado (1st St. & B Ave., Ferry Landing) 2:30 – 6 pm, Escondido  (Grand Ave. btw Juniper & Kalmia St.) 2:30 – 6:00 pm , Mira Mesa  (Mira Mesa High School 10510 Reagan Rd.) 3–7 pm, Morena District   (1240 West Morena Blvd.) 3 – 7 pm, Otay Ranch – Chula Vista (2015 Birch Rd. and Eastlake Blvd.) 4 –8 pm, Pacific Beach  (Bayard & Garnet) 2 – 6:30pm, UCSD/La Jolla (UCSD Campus, Town Square at Gilman/Meyers) 10 am – 2 pm (Sept. 25 through mid-June; closed for winter, spring and summer breaks)

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Doug Porter

Doug Porter was active in the early days of the alternative press in San Diego, contributing to the OB Liberator, the print version of the OB Rag, the San Diego Door, and the San Diego Street Journal. He went on to have a 35 year career in the Hospitality business and decided to go back into raising hell when he retired. He's won awards for 'Daily Reporting and Writing: Opinion/Editorial' from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Doug is a cancer survivor (sans vocal chords) and lives in North Park.
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  1. avatarDavid says

    Honoring Dr. King starts with the quality of our character and obviously that was lacking in the 80’s and sadly, still is lacking today. Perhaps as old generations die out, with them go their intolerance and ignorance, except for the teabaggers, who will strive to keep racism alive in the name of economic obfuscation.

  2. avatarAndy Cohen says

    “Taxifornia…….” Like it! Gonna have to remember that. It’s so bad that the good citizens of California voluntarily chose to raise their own taxes……and the California business community was THRILLED at the prospect of Prop 39 passing, putting them on equal footing with out of state businesses.

    Meanwhile, because of “Taxifornia” the state is about to be out of the deficit business and into the budget surplus and paying off debt business. That must suck for the Tea Party…….’cause, you know, they’re all about deficit and debt reduction……