Grand Rapids MARCH Committee launches street name change petition


Courtesy / CNN

Gillian Hanton, Staff Writer

The Moving Ahead for Remarkable Civil Rights Heroes (MARCH) Committee has recently launched an effort to change two street names in the Grand Rapids area to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and César E. Chávez.

In the proposal, the committee suggests that Grandville Avenue be changed to César E. Chávez Avenue, and Franklin Street be changed to Martin Luther King Jr. Street, as permanent markers of the leaders’ legacies. MARCH has launched a petition for Grand Rapids community members to show support for the change. 

King, a former Baptist minister, is widely known for his prominence in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s, advocating for equal rights for African American people, according to the King Center. Perhaps the most notable element of his career, however, was King’s intolerance of violence in his efforts for social change and racial justice. Despite being jailed, attacked, and eventually killed, King continued to hold onto the belief that, “In spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace.”

Although his civil rights career lasted just over a decade and met a tragic end, King is still regarded as one of the most influential leaders in the history of civil rights, according to the King Center.

Like King, Chávez was also a nonviolent social activist. However, his efforts were focused on Latino civil rights and the injustices of the working class, specifically farmers, according to the Chavez Foundation. Chávez founded the United Farm Workers of America, the first successful farmers’ union in American history. 

To honor these civil rights leaders, the MARCH committee is proposing that Franklin Street and Grandville Avenue take on the names of King and Chávez, respectively. In a community with a larger African American and Latino presence, recognition of diverse history continues to be important, MARCH co-chairperson Lupe Ramos-Montigny said.

“Right now, there are a lot of people of Latino and African American descent living on Franklin Street and Grandville Avenue,” Ramos-Montigny said. “I think the changes will help honor their history and let them know they are seen.” 

As with any public proposal, the transition from idea to reality is lengthy and challenging at times. However, the MARCH committee continues to remain vigilant and optimistic.

“I like to describe the process like it’s baseball,” Ramos-Montigny said. “Right now, we’re on second base and trying to run toward third. We’re definitely making progress.” 

So far, the bulk of public response has been positive, with hundreds of people in the Grand Rapids area signing MARCH’s petition in favor of the name change.

“We’ve had great support from the community so far and we’re going to continue to work hard,” Ramos-Montigny said. “We’re hoping to get around three thousand signatures in support.” 

A decision regarding the official name changes, immortalizing these figures in the Grand Rapids community, is likely to be made before the end of this year.