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Pitts: Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. lives on as Clarksville grows | COMMENTARY



Commentary by Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts in observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day:

It is said that more than 1,000 streets in the world bear the name of iconic, slain civil rights leader from the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

All but about 50 of those streets are in the United States.

One of them is a stretch of the Highway 76 Connector in Clarksville, running from its junction with Madison Street over to Interstate 24 at Exit 11.

Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway is a highway that intersects some of Clarksville’s newest growth areas. Churches, schools, key retail businesses and a residential mix of homes and multi-family dwellings lie along or within close proximity to the road.

Once predominantly rural, it is an area of Sango that has joined the rest of the city in reflecting the great desire many people have for living in Clarksville. It is truly an international destination.

The MLK Parkway has increasingly evolved into being one of the key motorist entranceways into the Clarksville city limits. Like other interstate exits, it gives a vital first impression of Clarksville and its people.

And that is appropriate in so many ways for one of the most diverse and welcoming cities not only in Tennessee, but the entire Southeastern region. To a great extent, Fort Campbell is a key contributor to this welcoming environment that Clarksville has become for cultural diversity and ethnic equality.

Because of the military makeup of our population, there is a distinct awareness in Clarksville of how people’s differences are to be celebrated.

It’s the kind of community that Dr. King’s message and life embodied. It could be said that his dream of a community of people where people were judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, might well define exactly what Clarksville has become.

On July 29, 2006, Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway was dedicated in Clarksville. The street name was instituted by vote of the Clarksville City Council, and Pastor Jerry Jerkins, a local Civil Rights icon whom we sadly lost in August 2021, was instrumental in formalizing and coordinating the celebration of Dr. King’s memorial highway here.

Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway is more than a roadway, or motorist path into the geographical heart of the city of Clarksville. It’s a symbolic and representative pathway into a city that cares deeply, and uniquely about racial diversity and ethnic equality.

Book-ending this highway on the opposite side of the city, near Exit 4, is a roadway named for another champion of change and civil rights, the late Clarksville native Wilma Rudolph. Remembered as one of the world’s greatest athletes, she overcame polio, gender challenges of her era, and perhaps above all, the prevalence of racism in the 1960s, to make a permanent and lasting mark on the world stage.

Wilma Rudolph Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway serve to remind us that Clarksville is just different. We have grown and evolved in the acceptance of all people regardless of their differences, faster than many other cities, especially in the South.

And on this Martin Luther King, Jr., Day – Jan. 16, 2023 — may we build upon the legacy of service and acceptance of one of the greatest people America has ever produced by collectively coming together peacefully, united and proud of what’s truly, uniquely great about Clarksville, Tennessee.

Clarksville Mayor Joe Pitts

MORE: 25th annual MLK Jr. Commemorative March at noon today in Clarksville

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