In the 1870s, a Chicago suburb called Grand Boulevard shared its name with its main road. After an organization called the South Parks Commission lined the road with trees, it was renamed South Park Way. In 1889 the area was annexed by the city of Chicago.

On August 1, 1968, then-Mayor Richard J. Daley renamed South Park Way to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The mayor had not liked King, but rising racial tensions in Chicago ahead of the Democratic National Convention worried Daley. He hoped to appease the black community by naming a street in King’s honor, and thereby avoid protests and unrest during the convention.

The street was chosen specifically because it begins on the South Side, close to the McCormick Place Convention Center, and extends south to 115th Street through majority-black neighborhoods (Bronzeville, Chatham, Rosewood, et al). Daley believed that if a street which passed through both black and white neighborhoods were to be renamed in honor of King, the new street signs would be defaced by residents in white neighborhoods.

Sources:

GrandBlvd
This 1897 map of Chicago’s elevated train stations also shows Grand Boulevard (to the far left, starting at the eastern end of 22nd Street) – Source

 

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