MLK, USA: Many King Streets Stuck on Economic Outskirts

Stefanos Chen
martin luter king jr
martin luter king jr

Twenty-six years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was first honored with a holiday, his legacy has flourished -- and not just in the annals of history. Today, there are more than an estimated 900 streets in America that bear the civil rights leader's name.

But even as the memory of King remains at the heart of American discourse, many of his namesake streets are drifting further to the social and economic periphery.

"There tends to be a marginalization of King's name," Derek Alderman, professor of geography at East Carolina University, told AOL Real Estate. Alderman, who has spent the better part of a decade chronicling the number of streets named after the slain civil rights leader, has encountered the paradox many times before -- beloved as the man may be, in real estate, some homebuyers and store owners ascribe a kind of stigma to the name.

Using's database of homes on the market, an analysis of properties on Martin Luther King Jr. streets lends some credence to that view. In 2010, the median list price for homes with "Martin Luther King Jr." in the address was $79,900. By 2011, it had fallen to $69,900, a 12.5 percent decrease. The U.S. median list price was more than twice that last year, at $170,000, and saw only a 4.7 percent drop in the same period, according to the National Association of Realtors. (In the gallery below, see a random sampling of homes on MLK streets.)

In many ways, Alderman said, it's a case of perception becoming reality. Residents and business owners oppose the renaming of thriving streets because of an unfounded fear that the civil rights leader's name may hurt property value. Instead, the commemorations of King, who was assassinated in 1968, are often quite literally pushed to the margins of town, on streets of communities that are already economically challenged.

"When a street's name means something [to property value] it's because of the location," said Alice Palmisano, executive director of Brown Harris Stevens Appraisal & Consulting Co. in New York City. "Park Avenue means something because it's in a great neighborhood," not because the name has some intrinsic real estate value.

Compounding the problem for many of these predominantly African-American communities was the rampant predatory lending that plagued poorer neighborhoods during the sub-prime mortgage run-up. In fact, the Justice Department is now seeking to repay more than 200,000 minority borrowers who were steered toward high-interest subprime loans when many qualified for better terms. The search is part of a historic $335 million discriminatory lending settlement levied against Bank of America's Countrywide Financial unit.

But to write off the more than 900 streets that pay homage to King as "struggling" would be wide of the mark, said the Rev. Terence Dicks, project director of the "Claiming a Street Named King" program in Augusta, Ga.

There are several prominent examples of MLK streets with healthy economies and rich cultural legacies, such as the ones in New York City, Austin and, of course, King's hometown of Atlanta. But Dicks' project aims to take an accounting of the problems faced by MLK throughways that continue to face economic hardship.

"I want to see an area meant for bad, used for good," he said, referring to the stigma accompanying many of the streets -- especially when King's legacy is at stake. "Young people do not remember Dr. King as well as they should," and the negativity being attributed to the streets named in his honor is not helping matters.

Alderman, who has collaborated with the grassroots project, echoes his sentiment.

"There's just no way that Martin Luther King's name causes poverty."