The Dedication of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way

Video by Brent Finnegan. Story by Andrew Jenner.

The auditorium at Memorial Hall was packed at noon for the dedication ceremony of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. Near the top of the program, Stan Maclin – the guy who first proposed the naming of a street in Harrisonburg to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. – got up to say a few words about the remarkable city we live in. (More here, here, here, here and here on the renaming of Cantrell Avenue after Dr. King.)

“Let us continue to go on to do other things to make this city even greater,” Maclin said. “May this day inspire us to continue to carry out the principle of ‘oneness.’”

A prayer was given, and a succession of other people approached the podium to speak.

During his remarks, city councilman Charlie Chenault welcomed everyone, especially the children, whom he called the event’s most important guests. Indeed, there were children everywhere – the back of the room was in that state of constant squirming and hushed chattering that exists whenever a bunch of adults bring children to places where a bunch of other adults are just sitting there in chairs listing to still other adults say things.

“This day means nothing if we can’t have our children live together in a better world,” said Chenault.

Amen.

The program ran its course. Letters from our senators were read. Congratulations from others in other cities and states were announced. Introductions were given, more remarks were made, many handshakes were made on stage, many expressions of goodwill were uttered into the microphone, many ovations were stood.

Doris Allen and Fred Gibson, two city residents who were on the National Mall in Washington in 1963 to hear Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, recalled that day’s events.

Immediately afterward, the crowd streamed outside – it was a remarkably warm, sunny day – and gathered at the stoplight on High Street, where Martin Luther King, Jr. Way begins its eastward arc through Harrisonburg.

The ceremonial ribbon was cut, the police stopped traffic and off a large crowd of walkers went, up and over the bridge that crosses the railroad tracks, and once they’d passed, the police stood aside, and things returned to normal at the intersection of High Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.

King dedication

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2 Comments

  1. Dany Fleming says:

    Andrew, I remember our first conversation about the street renaming – which seems like such a long time ago. Your reporting was excellent and played an important part in this story… and Brent, you’ve captured this so very well in video. Thank you both and thanks for your continued work on our local media scene.

  2. How appropriate that South High will always be connected to Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.
    That is truly a picture worth a thousand words.

    Without your coverage, it might well have been a trail, or a school, or postponed indefinitely.

    Even if the street had been achieved, the meaning would not have been as deep without the endgame that played out on this blog. Thanks to you, Harrisonburg faced the truth about a lot more than an obscure name, some of which will shine a light on past and future Martin Luther King, Jr. street renamings and some of which has already shone a light on the essence of our national political and economic struggles.

    In the words of Doris Allen, we can hope that the truth anchored by your reporting will “be an enlightenment for James Madison University and [will] be a positive impact on our younger
    generation of the friendly city of Harrisonburg Virginia, which shares brotherly love, the love
    portrayed by Dr. Martin Luther King.”

    Now Cantrell Avenue is historic– as the street where one southern town faced its past and present and resolved to lead the way, as it repeatedly has, to welcome a better future.

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