| Sarah Heinonen
SPRINGFIELD – Community leaders, local officials, and clergy members from around the country gathered in front of the Christian Cathedral in Springfield on June 28 to celebrate a change to the name of Eastern Avenue. The street that runs through the Old Hill neighborhood, from Hickory Street to Wilbraham Road, will now be known as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Way.
“It's time we had this in Springfield,” said Archbishop Timothy Paul Baymon, who originally suggested the change of name to Mayor Domenic Sarno two years ago. “This didn’t happen overnight,” he said.
The ceremony featured readings from King, speeches, and songs. Vanessa Ford led Headstart preschoolers and those in attendance in singing the spiritual “We Shall Overcome,” while the crowd held hands.
Karen Morales Aragones introduced a song she had written with Danny Rivera, “Falling Angels.” It sampled speeches from Martin Luther King along with the sounds of gunshots and news reports.
“Out of the Civil Rights Movement came great documents,” said Springfield state Rep. Bud L. Williams, referencing voting laws. He told those gathered that the Supreme Court had recently made the decision not to weigh in on a gerrymandering case and said the current federal administration was “trying to turn back the hands of time,” for a lot of people.
Williams recalled how Martin Luther King was known as an agitator and said people today need to “be prepared to educate and agitate.”
Williams also said that there will soon be a plaque in the State House inscribed with Martin Luther King's words. He said they will be the first words of a black man in the State House.
A slight snag came during the unveiling of the street sign. When Sarno, Baymon, and Williams pulled the rope to bring down a covering over the sign it wouldn’t budge, as it had been taped too well. Sarno called for a ladder and, as if on cue, a Department of PublicWorks worker pulled up in his truck to ask if he could help. The worker soon had the covering down and Sarno embraced him in thanks.
“I look upon this avenue the symbol of hope and pride,” said Sarno. He went on to say that Martin Luther King fought, not just for racial equality, but also for social equality and to end poverty and housing discrimination.
“I am so glad,” said Ethel Griffin, who Baymon called one of the “mothers of the community.”
“Let’s all of us have a dream now about making this way represent Martin Luther King,” said Griffin.