Street naming and the politics of belonging: Spatial injustices in the toponymic commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr

Derek H. Alderman, Joshua Inwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

63 Scopus citations

Abstract

Although the critical turn in place name study recognizes the central and contested place that toponyms hold in people's lives and identity struggles, little work has explicitly analyzed place naming rights in terms of social justice, citizenship, and belonging. We introduce readers to the naming of streets for slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr and use two brief case studies from the southeastern USA (Statesboro, Georgia and Greenville, North Carolina) to discuss the barriers that hinder the creation of a landscape that truly reflects the teachings of King. Naming opponents, sometimes with the (un)witting cooperation of black activists, impose spatial, scalar limits on the rights of African Americans to participate in the street naming process and to appropriate the identity of streets outside of their neighborhoods, even though challenging historically entrenched patterns of racial segregation and marginalization is exactly the purpose of many street naming campaigns. The case of King streets prompts us to think about place naming as a mechanism of spatial (in)justice, demonstrating the fundamental role that geography plays in constituting and structuring the processes of discrimination or equality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-233
Number of pages23
JournalSocial and Cultural Geography
Volume14
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Cultural Studies

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