Take a walk with me on Martin Luther King Ave.
Starting at 10 a.m. Thursday morning, I'll be walking a portion of Martin Luther King Avenue in Oklahoma City in honor of the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.
I'll be talking to people in the neighborhood about the street, its history and its future. Martin Luther King Ave. is home to a few historic sites from the civil rights movement. I'll start my walk at Frederick Douglass Mid-High, which has been on Martin Luther King Avenue since 1955. Author and Oklahoma City native Ralph Ellison was a Douglass alumnus and also played football there.
The street is also home to the Freedom Center, at NE 26 and Martin Luther King, founded by the late Oklahoma City civil rights activist Clara Luper. The building was the headquarters of the local chapter of the NAACP Youth Council, which organized the August 1958 sit-in at Katz Drugstore. It's also the place where Oklahoma City's black community gathered to mourn on April 4, 1968, when word spread of King's assassination in Memphis. A fire burned the original Freedom Center building in September 1968. Arson was suspected in the blaze, according to newspaper accounts from the time. Today, the Freedom Center is home to Oklahoma City's only civil rights memorial.
The street is part of Eastern Avenue that was renamed in honor of the slain civil rights leader in 1985 at the behest of Oklahoma City's black community after a petition drive. There was pushback on the proposal and the Oklahoma City Council approved the name change by a one-vote margin.