A street with two names—or would that be three?—may finally have only one—or would that be two?
On Wednesday, January 27, at 9 a.m., the Public Works Committee of the Milwaukee Common Council will meet to discuss—among other things—renaming Old World Third Street to Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.
The change would apply to the stretch of road from W. Wisconsin Avenue all the way north to W. McKinley Avenue. After that, the street currently becomes Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, all the way north to Capitol Drive.
The proposed ordinance is sponsored by Alderwoman Milele Coggs. It is unanimously co-sponsored by all 14 remaining alders.
On Friday afternoon, Coggs released a statement:
This week as a city and nation we have celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a spirit of national renewal, with the historic inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden and Kamala Harris as the first woman, and first woman of color elected to Vice-President. Over this past year we have seen people take to the streets in cities across the country in a renewed fight for justice and seen a rebirth in efforts toward racial equity and inclusion. In furtherance of the same positive and transformational spirit and direction of the nation we are seeking to correctly continue a rightful path.
Every time one drives southbound on King Drive, as it abruptly turns into Old World Third Street, they may be reminded of the 1984 political fight over the street renaming, the tremendous effort to limit the King street naming from entering downtown Milwaukee and the vestiges of systemic racism and segregation that have been pervasive in this city.
Out of respect, honor and reverence for the work and legacy of Dr. King, to correctly continue a rightful path, and to aid this city in healing from our notorious reputation of systemic racism and segregation, I have introduced (with unanimous Council sponsorship) legislation to rename Old World Third Street to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. I would like to publicly thank each of the co-sponsors: Alds. Bauman, Stamper, Lewis, Rainey, Hamilton, Dodd, Dimitrijevic, Kovac, Zamarripa, Johnson, Pérez, Spiker, Borkowski and Murphy.
Ultimately, as Dr. King once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” This effort will undoubtedly serve as inspiration, hope, healing and encouragement for our continued quest for justice and racial equity. The road to a more equitable city and nation will not be easy, but small efforts like this serve as a demonstration of our willingness to not be silent in the fight to usher in the necessary change for a better tomorrow.
In 1984, the partial renaming of what was once known as 3rd Street was met with racially charged controversy. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains:
Consider a 1984 meeting of a Milwaukee Common Council committee, during which some residents repeatedly denied that objections to renaming N. 3rd St. to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive was a black-and-white issue.
The problem with that assertion, according to an article in the Nov. 1, 1984, Milwaukee Journal, was that all of the spectators on one side of the room at City Hall were white, while nearly everyone on the other side was black.
A group called Young Milwaukeeans soon presented a petition to aldermen with 17,000 signatures backing the name change, according to a Nov. 13, 1984, Milwaukee Journal article.
The full council voted 13-3 to rename the street, with this compromise: the section from W. Wisconsin Ave. north to W. McKinley Ave. would be N. Old World Third St., while 3rd St. from McKinley to W. Capitol Drive would be renamed to honor King. The street north of Capitol Drive is Green Bay Ave. — a third name for the same street.
A chunk of the street south of W. Wisconsin Avenue is still known as 3rd Street. Also, heads up, Who’s On Third and 3rd Street Market Hall.