Nearly every city in America has a street named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And since President Barack Obama made history as the first black president of the free world, he too, is gaining momentum with streets named after him — even right here in the Sunshine State. But predominantly black Riviera Beach in Palm Beach County, is hoping to be among the first where Barack Obama Highway intersects with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
It has an amazing ring to it for Riviera Beach mayor, Bishop Thomas Masters, who is the brain behind renaming Old Dixie Highway in Riviera Beach after the president. “It would be the father and the son intersecting,” said Masters. “You have the father of the Civil Rights Movement, and you have the son, our first black president, who benefitted from that movement. The two legacies would connect,” he said. “Who could find fault with that?”
Masters recently started a petition to get the street renamed in honor of President Obama. It’s a popular concept and is starting to gain traction as the effort is made known. People like the idea, and Masters said it’s only fitting. And even more significant is what “Dixie” represents, he said. “Dixie represents the old South, the Confederacy and slavery. We need to get rid of that. And what better person to honor than the president, who is a role model and history maker? It would be perfect to replace ‘Old Dixie’ with something with a more positive connotation,” he said.
Masters said he came up with the idea about a year ago. “I’ve always had an idea to rename a lot of streets in our city. I think our city is much more than just a bunch of letters of the alphabet and numbers. I’ve wanted to rename our streets after African-American role models and leaders, so I had this idea about the president for some time now. It would be the right thing to do today and would reconnect this great city to history.”
Masters said some critics said he should wait until after the leaders have passed on, but the fiery mayor said there’s no need to wait. He said after he saw the movie, Selma, his passion was re-ignited. “That movie inspired me. The least we could do is take a street out of our neighborhood, and what better tribute than to our first African- American president. The movie depicts blood being shed in order to gain the right to vote. Our president is a product of that. He is someone who would reflect America in a positive way, and particularly right here in the heart of Riviera Beach.
Masters also addresses critics that say the road isn’t beautiful enough to represent such an esteemed person. The same criticism is made of the streets named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But Masters said he has a plan for beautifying the street and he believes the proprietors along the highway would be encouraged to make their spaces even more attractive. I believe our local businesses would be inspired,” he added.
At one point, Old Dixie Highway intersects with the Port of Palm Beach. Masters said the renaming would be a huge boost for the cruise ship passengers coming from the Port. “This would say a lot about our city to people from all over the world.”
Thus far, the mayor has an online petition and a hard copy petition that’s circulating. He said the elected officials would have to sign off on it, and so would the county officials, since Old Dixie is a county road. But most importantly would be the people’s voices. “It has to be an effort bigger than the mayor and elected officials. It has to be something the people would embrace,” he said. “I don’t see why within six months to a year, we wouldn’t have made significant strides in renaming the street after our president. After all, it’s only fitting.”