Thursday, March 30, 2017

Dr. King's Alternate Dream

The giant Bean Boot leaves plenty of room for another statue.
Over the years the city of Portland, Maine's grooviest town for sure, has won quite a few awards. Included are things like Most Liveable City (Forbes.com), Greenest City (Organic Gardening Magazine) one of the Coolest Small Cities in America (GQ Magazine), one of the Best Healthy Places to Retire (U.S. News & World Report) and Best Town in the East (Outside Magazine). This year a dozen of the city's chefs made it to the semi-finals for the prestigious James Beard Award.

Obviously Portland desperately wants to be cool and play with all the big cities. But with just 7% of its population being African-American, it doesn't make the cut. (Once clearly The Whitest State, Vermont now holds that dubious title with Maine a close second.) But who's to blame if African-Americans don't want to live here? After all, it's really cold in winter, which lasts several seasons, and there are basically no jobs.

Still, in an ongoing quest for respectability, and to be like all the other real cities, local politicians and a growing number of activists have been engaged in pursuit of naming or building something in Portland -- a street or park or public square -- to honor civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The trouble is, what? It's a quandary. As one columnist wrote recently in The Portland Phoenix, an alternative, free newspaper, "There just are not a whole lot of places worthy of Dr. King's legacy. To make matters more difficult, Dr. King had never been to Portland, so any choice would lack historic gravity."

Who knows -- had Dr. King, assassinated at only 39, lived longer, he might have eventually gotten up to Maine for a vacation, despite its lack of diversity. If so, he surely would have stopped in at L. L. Bean's flagship store in Freeport. And that could have changed everything.

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