A prominent road in Rock Hill could soon be designated as a memorial highway honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
State Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill, made the proposal this week for a stretch of Constitution Boulevard between Cherry Road and Herlong Avenue. The road would keep its name, with signs denoting the memorial section.
King said he's optimistic state lawmakers will approve the measure when they convene in January.
The Legislature typically defers to the local member making the request.
"With York County being the fastest-growing county in South Carolina, we need to be very proactive in honoring the legacy," King said in an interview.
"I've gotten several phone calls from constituents who want this to happen. They want him to be honored."
'A missing piece'
The strongest push might have come from Daisy McDuffie, an 88-year-old retired teacher who taught in York County's all-black schools for decades.
"Being the fourth-largest city in South Carolina, we need a Martin Luther King Boulevard," McDuffie said. "I think it's a missing piece."
McDuffie added, "I may die before it happens. If I do, it wasn't meant to be. I'm going to hold on and pray."
Rep. King said it's time for Rock Hill - home of the "No Room for Racism" motto - to join more than 600 U.S. cities in designating a street in honor of King.
Constitution Boulevard makes sense, King said, because of its prominence in the city.
Dedicated in September 1988, Constitution Boulevard created a key link from downtown to the high-growth areas on the northwest side of town surrounding Piedmont Medical Center.
The proposed section runs past Boyd Hill, one of the city's oldest black neighborhoods.
John King has represented District 49 since 2008.
State lawmakers have the power to name honorary highways. Last year, King named a stretch of S.C. 5 in honor of the late Juanita Goggins of Rock Hill, the first black woman ever elected to the S.C. General Assembly.
York County has named highways in honor of local figures such as Bayles Mack, Sam Foster and Coleman Poag, said state Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill.
Told about the latest request from Rep. King, Simrill said he would have no objection.
"I'll support it if that's what he's asking for," Simrill said. "Martin Luther King is an important figure in our country's history."
As more U.S. cities name streets for King, the trend has become a "tokenistic gesture," according to a professor interviewed by the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
"Many of us in the black community have gotten carried away by gestures that don't mean anything but are showy, such as naming a street," said Jerry Kolo, a professor at Florida Atlantic University.
"I would love to hear voices saying, 'Let's look for more tangible ways of honoring Martin Luther King's legacy.'"
Debate over MLK holiday
York County has had its own struggles. In 2003, York was among the last counties in the state to recognize MLK Day as a local holiday.
A short time later, city of Rock Hill leaders voted to close City Hall on MLK Day after previously giving employees the choice of whether to take the day as a floating holiday.
The city maintains an MLK citizens committee to promote acceptance and tolerance of all people. Community leaders gather every year for the Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Prayer Breakfast.
Dedicating a street would be another way to recognize King, said Foster, a former state representative from Rock Hill.
"We don't have anything in this community," Foster said. "Charlotte has done some things, and we have not. I think it's a good idea."