On Monday, Tucson celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a city street named after the civil-rights leader.
Nobel Way, in the UA Tech Park at the Bridges, near East 36th Street and South Kino Parkway, will be renamed to ML King Jr. Way at an 8 a.m. ceremony, kicking off holiday festivities. An annual walk begins from the new location, starting after the ceremony and ending at Reid Park.
The event also marks the end of Tucson’s time on the short list of U.S. cities without a street named for King.
“It was something that we saw a need for here in the Tucson area ... We wanted it done for what Dr. King stands for, which is civil rights, peace for all, and there was nothing like that to show his existence here in Tucson,” said Doris Snowden, president of the NAACP Tucson chapter. It was chapter members who approached Tech Parks Arizona about renaming a street in the Bridges development after King.
King Day was not an official state holiday in Arizona until 1993. Phoenix named a portion of its Broadway Road for King only last year, and 2010 Census Bureau statistics place African-Americans at only 5 percent of the Tucson population.
“Struggles for social justice and equality have been an important part of Tucson’s history,” said Bruce Wright, spokesperson for the UA Tech Park and associate vice president of Tech Parks Arizona.
“This is part of our larger project, which we’re calling the Heritage Path, which is going to be an interactive celebration of the cultural history of Tucson, and so these two projects go together nicely.”
The project encompassing Heritage Path is called the Pathway to Discovery. ML King Jr. Way will be the main thoroughfare of the Heritage Path portion and will employ interactive kiosks to “highlight and celebrate the cultural diversity and history of our community,” Wright said. He hopes to see Heritage Path complete within two years.
Annie Sykes, one of the NAACP members who approached Tech Park, says the UA’s involvement, and that they own the street, made the name change possible. Even so, Sykes said the process took almost two years.
Wright says the initiative went through a community steering committee, the county and, finally, the city, which will eventually own the road. With homesite developments expected on the west side of the new ML King Jr. Way, Wright says, “It’s going to be a major public thoroughfare connecting 36th to Tucson Marketplace drive.”
“When we moved to Tucson in ’59 it was still segregated.” Snowden says. “The swimming pools, the movie houses, we had to sit upstairs at the Fox Fairmount.
“Now we have the opportunity to live wherever we want to live and go to school wherever we want to go to school,” Snowden said. “We’ve come a long way.”
But Snowden still sees room for improvement, citing the lack of African-American businesses in the area as an example.
“This is just a start because the street will ... be representative of all minority groups in Tucson.” Snowden said. “I think the Heritage Way project is a really great project. It’s relevant to Dr. King in that Dr. King was for all people, not just for African-Americans. This reflects his vision.”