WHEELING - Local leaders joined clergy and community members Tuesday in unveiling two new signs they hope will remind future generations of a time when color, not character, often determined a person's station in life - and of a man who played a crucial role in changing that.
The afternoon ceremony at the corner of 11th and Chapline streets - moved inside to nearby Fourth Street United Methodist Church due to temperatures topping 90 degrees - marked the official dedication of "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way" in Wheeling. The new designation, approved by City Council last month, begins at that intersection and follows Chapline Street as it becomes Stone Boulevard to the street's intersection with National Road.
Because it is an honorary designation, similar to that of a portion of Interstate 70 near Wheeling as Doc and Chickie Williams Highway, property owners along the street will be able to keep their current addresses. However, signs at both ends of the area clearly mark the street as a place to reflect on the life of the iconic civil rights leader.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie, left, and the Rev. Darrell Cummings unveil a sign designating part of Chapline Street as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
According to the Rev. Darrell Cummings, who as president of the Upper Ohio Valley Ministerial Association helped lead the charge in requesting the city make the change, the signs will serve as important reminders of the civil rights movement as the days and decades since King's crusade pass.
"For some of us, it's history, but for others, they lived it," said Cummings.
Among those who lived it is the Rev. Willie Nevels, who shared some history of the surrounding neighborhood during the ceremony. Though historic imagery of segregation often comes from the deep South, Nevels said Wheeling was no different in granting access to places.
"Not even a theater, not even a restaurant - you had to sit in the back. Not even a school - you had to go to Ohio to mix with other people," said Nevels.
But Nevels said in the neighborhood surrounding the street now named for King, the African-American community had everything it needed - including the old Lincoln School, barbershops, eateries and theaters. That, he said, is why the ministerial alliance chose that area when approaching city leaders with their request.
The Rev. Willie Stinson said King's message brought "hope for a world where people are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
"As a community, we bring more similarities than differences," said Stinson.
McKenzie said it's important to remember King not as a notable African-American, but as a man whose contributions made an impact on people of all races and who refused simply to stand by and witness injustice.
"He said enough is enough - we must change and make our country a better place," McKenzie said.
City Manager Robert Herron said he was a young child in 1968 when assassin James Earl Ray fatally shot King as he stood on the second-floor balcony of a Memphis hotel. Despite his youth, Herron said he "recalled vividly" the event and its impact on the nation.
"Since that time, it's been a lifelong learning experience for me," he said. "There's still a lot of work to be done ... and it's a pleasure for me as a city manager to participate in this."