National Institute on Aging

University of Tennessee Professor’s Research on Streets Named for Martin Luther King Jr.

ut_seal_orange_whiteDerek Alderman, a professor of geography at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, has conducted a study on streets named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His research shows that there are more than 900 streets named for Dr. King. The 900 streets are predominantly in the southeastern United States, where much of the civil rights movement took place. There are 10 states in which there are no streets named after Dr. King.

Professor Alderman found that there has been widespread opposition to naming streets after Dr. King in predominantly White areas. “Street names are powerful symbols of identity,” says Dr. Alderman, “and some people are very unwilling to give up that identity. It’s all about protecting space, which can be a racial issue. It’s a protection of racial boundaries and racial power.”

As a result, a great many of the streets named after Dr. King are in predominantly Black neighborhoods. “It’s a bitter irony,” Professor Alderman says. “We’re commemorating a man who battled against segregation by segregating his memory.”

For more information on Dr. Alderman’s research. visit


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