Two streets that intersect in the Nation’s Capitol in Southeast are named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. These cross streets were renamed decades ago in honor of both men who were assassinated by a gunman’s bullet in separate incidents while they were in the prime of their lives – Malcolm at age 45 in 1965 and Dr. King at age 36 in 1968. Nichols Avenue was renamed after Dr. King on his birthday, on Jan. 15, 1971, and later on, Portland Street was renamed Malcolm X Avenue in 1982.
While it is commonly noted that both men vehemently fought for civil and human rights, their approaches were quite different. Dr. King consistently and steadfastly maintained peace and non-violence as he fought for equal rights for Black people. At the same time, Malcolm X, on the other hand, was aggressive in his call for Black empowerment “by any means necessary.”
Two movements were happening simultaneously by two Black leaders who only met once.
And, so it is today at this intersection where the dream and the hope of King and Malcolm remain deferred by the reality of men like George Floyd whose life was lost in Minneapolis due to a system that devalues Black lives. It is an intersection that Panama Jackson, a local blogger, referred to as possibly “The Blackest Intersection in America.” Besides the names, he asserts it may qualify because of a liquor store on one corner, a fast-food restaurant on another and a park where “at any given time, you can find games of chess, checkers, Wake the Dope Fiend or spades happening from people who clearly have nowhere to be at any time ever, mixed with weekly health fairs testing folks for the pressure, the sugar and the ‘ritis.”
Honor, blinded by frustration, has a growing legion of community activists coming together to reclaim King’s dream and Malcolm’s hope. They want to remove the liquor stores and the check cashers, clean up the park, welcome businesses that offer fresh and healthy foods and invite providers of services for the homeless and the hopeless to remove them from the storefronts and street corners into places where they can get help.
The community and the government must work together to bring new life to the intersection of MLK and Malcolm X and to honor two men whose paths only crossed once and whose single purpose was to chart a course towards achieving a better life for their people.