Detroit City Councilmember Mary Waters recently proposed renaming the iconic Hart Plaza to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza.
Waters, inspired by conversations with constituents in northwest Detroit, says she seeks to create a place that embodies Dr. King’s message of nonviolence and inclusivity, where he once delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
Currently, the plaza is named after the late Philip Hart, a former U.S. Senator who represented Michigan for 18 years. Known as “the conscience of the Senate,” he was a champion of civil rights legislation.
Hart played a pivotal role in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was the floor manager in the Senate during the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Waters, whose proposal has ignited a spirited conversation about the importance of preserving legacy, was one of the guests on Detroit Today to discuss the topic.
Listen: Should Detroit rename Hart Plaza to MLK Jr. Plaza?
John Shaw is the Director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, who also has written biographies of many Congressional figures. Shaw spoke in depth of Hart’s positive impacts on both Michigan and Washington D.C., as seen in the landmarks in both states named after the senator.
“Senator Hart is almost to me, without dispute, one of the most interesting, consequential and admirable senators that have served certainly in the last century,” says Shaw.
Mary Waters is a Councilmember at large for the city of Detroit. Waters spoke about how her idea came to be after listening to some of her constituents advocate for non-violence. She says she’s happy to receive honest feedback from Detroiters against the name change.
“It was a teachable moment,” says Waters.
Derek Alderman is an expert in cultural and historical geography that works on Interventions in Naming America and Mobilizing for Equality (I-NAME) as well as the Federal Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names. Alderman notes that there are almost a thousand streets and many more monuments that are named for Dr. King and believes citizens should have agency in the names of their cities, and what those names mean for them.
“It absolutely inspires these critical discussions about the nation’s path,” says Alderman.
Jamon Jordan is the City of Detroit’s official historian, and founder of Black Scroll Network History and Tours. Jordan spoke on how institutions re-named after MLK can erase the local ties — which isn’t always a good thing. Jordan also spoke positively of Sen. Hart’s legacy.
“Sometimes, the usage of Martin Luther King Jr. is used to remove vital history that is also important,” says Jordan.