“You know what’s sad? Martin Luther King stood for non-violence. And I don’t care where you are in America, if you’re on Martin Luther King Boulevard, there’s some violence going down.” –Chris Rock
Many people in the U.S. have heard the comedy routine by Chris Rock talking about the violence on Martin Luther King Boulevard. Part of great comedy is the comedian’s ability to tap into the stereotypes and nuances of society, exaggerate them and laugh heartily. Chris Rock did exactly that. There is a fairly pervasive stereotype that locations named after Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) are in bad neighborhoods, substandard, and even violent. Focusing in on schools named for MLK, there is a wide belief that these schools should be avoided as they are under-performing institutions serving poor, minority children.
Naming schools in honor of MLK has continuously raised controversy. In the early 1970’s in Omaha, Nebraska, members of the Black community spoke out against putting a school named in honor of MLK in the heavily Black section of northern Omaha because they felt it would cause further segregation (School’s website). In 1998, a controversy arose in Riverside, CA over the plan to name a new high school after MLK in an area that was predominately White. Many parents expressed concerns that their children would be perceived as coming from a Black school and that perception would hurt the children’s college prospects. People also expressed concerns that MLK was not relevant to the area and should not have a school named for him (Alderman 2002). As recently as June 18, 2009, Dr. Ben Chavis, advisor emeritus and former principal of American Indian Public Charter School, on the Bill Handel Show on KFI 640 in Los Angeles, stated:
“I’m Indian. Why can’t something good be called American Indian? Most schools called American Indian or Cesar Chavez or Martin Luther King, they suck! If you want to check out a bad school, call it after a minority […]or the streets, Martin Luther King Way. Don’t hang out on Martin Luther King Way, you’ll get jumped.[…] They name these schools and we’re embarrassing our former leaders by doing that because Martin Luther King wouldn’t want all these losing schools after him.”
This stereotype where MLK schools are often perceived as being rough, inner-city schools with low academic performance inspired this research paper. While Dr. Alderman addressed the perception of MLK schools as being “Black schools” in his 2002 research published in Urban Geography, his focus is from the perspective of a cultural geographer with more of a focus on location and dispersal. The focus of the research herein is to directly address the concept of MLK schools churning out uneducated citizens more so than other neighborhood schools. To address this issue, a sample of over 100 MLK schools is examined as to racial composition, percentage of students receiving free/reduced lunch or classes as “economically disadvantaged”, and academic proficiency as quantified on NCLB testing. This data will also be collected on a sample of non-MLK schools within 5 miles and within the same district as each MLK school in order to compare whether or not MLK schools are really doing any worse than the other schools in the neighborhood.