City commissioners vote unanimously to rename 17th Street Martin Luther King Jr. Drive

Earlier this year, city officials unveiled MLK Jr. Drive, which takes the place of what was formerly 17th Street. (Archive photo by Kaylie McLaughlin | Collegian Media Group)

“…I see the hope within the young people of our generation,” Martin Luther King Jr. said, standing on a stage in Ahearn Field House at Kansas State on Jan.19, 1968. One of his final speeches, “The Future of Integration” addressed an audience of 7,000 people — many of whom were K-State students.

On March 1, the name of the road traveled by King on his way to deliver this speech — formerly known as 17th Street — was officially changed to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Chief of staff and director of community relations at K-State Linda Cook said that when the city administrators contacted her to see if K-State would rename the portion of 17th Street that runs through campus, the university “immediately” responded, wanting to make the name change on campus. The new name for this portion of the road went into effect on March 22.

“Naming the street Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is due recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. and all that he did for civil rights in this country,” Cook said.

Julie Peterson, geographic information system technician for Manhattan, said the road had the name 17th Street since the early 1900s. In 2006, as requested by the Manhattan Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee, the city memorialized 17th Street by adding a designation referencing Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Drive.

In the fall of 2020, the Manhattan Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee expressed interest in changing the street’s name permanently. On Jan. 5, 2021, Manhattan City Commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with changing the name from 17th Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Kevin Bryant, co-chair of the Manhattan Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee said the committee’s goal in renaming the road was to complete the mission started in 2006.

Bryant said the committee wanted the name change to show a dedication to King’s speech, which focused on civil rights themes and their involvement with immigration, economics, nonviolence and freedom.

“It’s [about] visibility,” Bryant said. “If you don’t see it, you won’t acknowledge it. If you don’t see it, it won’t click in your head. We want that connection for nonviolence, peace, but also economic opportunity…You have to think about what he was saying. It’s a reminder to think about what he was saying.”