There are over 900 Martin Luther King Boulevards across the country. The images and the communities that surround them vary from city to city. In Baltimore this street has historically been the dividing line between a booming Downtown and an underdeveloped black community.
“The Downtown started developing after the riots,” said Dr. Charles Simmons, President of the Sojourner-Douglass College. “The 1968 riots when Martin Luther King was killed. This plan was on the books prior to that. It was scheduled to be called “The Avenue.”
Simmons thinks “the avenue’ was changed to Martin Luther king to “appease” the black community, but since then it appears as though few black businesses have been developed, while the University of Maryland expands to both sides of the street, physically and economically.
“One of the things that we tried to do was to encourage the University of Maryland to help create— black businesses. And do business with these businesses. I don’t think any of that has occurred,” Simmons said.
And just because the line is blurred doesn’t mean the area is living up to it’s namesake.
“What we see here is really the antithesis of what Martin Luther King stood for and wanted. That is integration, self-development, and self-determination. You see— a stratification with— with wealth on one side and poverty still— on the west side of— of— of this boulevard,” Simmons said.
Themar long, who owns a coffee shop on MLK, thinks we may be further along the path to the dream.
“A lot of people when I first opened would say, ‘hey a black business man on that side of Martin Luther King,’” Long said.
Themar says he hopes to see the kind of development and progress necessary in Baltimore that will make the dividing line less visible.
“Letting other business owners and the people of Baltimore and people from other states see, that you can not only be on this side of the line but you can also venture to the other side of the line,” Long said. “We want them to feel that it’s a welcoming side, each side, and not just a barrier.”