Two years ago, Alderman Yusuf Shah had a dream in which he searched unsuccessfully for Martin Luther King Boulevard among the streets of New Haven. When he awoke, he set about putting the slain civil rights leader’s name on the map.
Saturday, he celebrated his success, with the city’s official dedication of North Frontage Road as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The West River alderman was joined by a host of local and statewide elected officials, as well as aldermanic and mayoral hopefuls, at a noontime ceremony near the corner of Frontage and Tyler Street.
It was the culmination of a process of over two years. In May 2009, Alderman Shah proposed renaming Whalley Avenue after Dr. King. That street, and second-choice Dixwell Avenue, were both rejected due to their significance to New Haven history. Finally, North Frontage was chosen, and approved by aldermen in September 2009.
Saturday’s sunny ceremony was attended by Mayor John DeStefano, Aldermen Shah, Marcus Paca, and Charles Blango, state Reps. Pat Dillon and Roland Lemar, state Sens. Martin Looney and Toni Harp, community management team heads Curlina McDonald and Florita Gillespie. Aldermanic hopefuls Tyisha Walker and Frank Douglass were there, along with mayoral candidates Jeffrey Kerekes, Clifton Graves, and Tony Dawson. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro was present in the form of a letter read by Alderman Paca. Former Secretary of the State—and U.S. Senate hopeful—Susan Bysiewicz was also on hand.
“This day came to me in a dream,” said Shah as he opened the proceedings. In the dream, someone asked him where MLK Boulevard is. Shah replied, “I don’t know, but it has to be around here somewhere.” He woke up as he was poring over a map of New Haven, unable to find MLK Boulevard.
Shah said the area around the newly named boulevard is poised for a renaissance. “We know it is fertile.” The Rt. 34 corridor will be reborn as a “flagship” for the city, he said.
“I was blessed by Allah—God—to get the votes that I needed” to rename the street, Shah said. “I have goosebumps.”
After an invocation read by Dr. Abdul-Majid Karim Hasan of the eponymous Islamic center, the gathered dignitaries spoke about the significance of the day.
“Street names not only tell us where we are; they tell us where we have been,” DeStefano said. The first three streets to be named in New Haven were Church, Chapel, and Temple, a result of the town’s Christian roots, he said. One of the next named was College Street, marking the arrival and significance of Yale. Then Whalley and Dixwell and Goffe, the three regicides, took their places on the city map.
The new MLK Boulevard is one of the longest streets in the city, stretching from State Street to the Boulevard, DeStefano noted.
Eyes On The Sign
Saturday’s ceremony included an unveiling of a large new street sign. It was placed on Tyler Street for the ceremony but will be moved to a spot near the Air Rights Garage sometime this week, said Bruce Fischer, a traffic operations engineer with the city. That large sign will greet people coming off the highway onto MLK Boulevard.
Other signs will change over more gradually over the next year, Fischer said. “It’ll be dual signage for a while.”
“We don’t have the money to change them all,” he said. The renaming did not come with an allocation of money for changing signs, he said.
New illuminated street signs are going up in the next six months at 10 intersections on MLK Boulevard where traffic-light work is set to begin, Fischer said. Other signs may take longer to change over.