June 25, 2024

Jo Mai Asian Culture

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Plan to transform Mobile’s MLK Avenue into civil rights & cultural heritage district

2 min read

Mobile is on the verge of establishing a civil rights and cultural heritage district, one that could transform the neighborhoods in and around Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue.

And Monday night, those living there were able to see what that might look like.

It’s a project being spearheaded by the Mobile County Commission, and it comes at the same time the city of Mobile has revealed its plan to completely rework the avenue’s utilities and street scape

It’s a bold plan, but it’s been done before… in towns like Tulsa, Oklahoma, Rocky Mount, North Caroline and Birmingham, Alabama. In fact, those are three cities being used as inspiration for the revitalization of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue here in Mobile.

The plan? Make this neighborhood a destination for those who want to live, work and play in a vibrant, healthy neighborhood… the way “The Avenue” used to be.

“The area was so dynamic,” says local historian Eric Finley, “ that it had a day life and a night life where you saw people going to school, churches, shopping. And it had a night life. There were clubs and entertainment. But again, it was all in the community, and it was fun.”

Mobile’s County Commissioners, led by Merceria Ludgood, are kicking off the effort with more than three million dollars of federal funds thanks to the American Rescue Plan triggered by the COVID pandemic.

Phil Walker is managing the project, and says it is being inspired by those who matter most; the people who know The Avenue when it was in its heyday.

“From day one, when we first learned about the project from the county, they emphasized the need for public engagement and public input. Says Ludgood. “So you know, we try to balance out what people want to see with experience in other communities and come up with a plan that meets their expectations but is still realistic and implementable.”

But Commissioner Ludgood emphasizes this isn’t just a beautification project. It’s much more than that.

“The shot in the arm is what this can do for the community, that we can begin to attract new investment, where people can see this as a place where they may want to live and might want to bring a business. And that’s why it’s really intended to be a catalyst for all of that.”

There are plans for a gateway area with an interpretive center, perhaps shops and eateries. Re-purposing the old Central High School is high on the list, as well as affordable housing. Some projects are already underway, such at the Isom Clemon Memorial Civil Rights Park… across from the ILA building, which is scheduled for a makeover. But whatever happens along The Avenue, these folks say it will be guided by three words: honor, protect, and renew.

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