Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, formerly known as Logan St., is one of two roads that extend vertically through Lansing. In fact, if you look at the Lansing map this street actually cuts straight through the center of Lansing from north to south; or south to north. How befitting, just in location within Lansing, that it has become Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. holiday I chose to walk a large chunk of this road. The entire length is almost eight miles. I was able to traverse about 3.6 miles of that.
By car this stretch of road is very familiar to me. However, on foot, it has a completely different complexity. This area has also had some growing pains in recent years. The loss of Oldsmobile has left a gaping emptiness along the river’s edge and a lonely feel to the area of road that used to travel through this factory area. Lights that often signaled a halt to traffic, allowing semi trucks loaded with fresh off the line cars to pass, now flash yellow. Even the factory buildings themselves have long been demolished leaving expanse of open fields. Despite harsh threats of fines from the city, the sidewalks on both sides of the road were not shoveled. If there weren’t a few inches of snow to catalog the footsteps of multiple walkers on this section, it would seem that it was mostly avoided.
It became evident quickly that this road borders the downtown corridor on the west. In the distance the monolith Michigan Hall of Justice building stands regally, back side straight and tall, lining an entire block of MLK Blvd. Even from the rear there is a majesty about it. Also visible briefly, is the Michigan Historical Museum. In Dr. Martin Luther King’s last speech, “I See the Promised Land / I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, he mentions places in time he would pass through if the Lord Almighty would let him choose a time he could stop at.
“As you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?”– I would take my mental flight by Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there. I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality.”
As I walked past Lansing’s “Parthenons” I did not stop either. I also came to a sign that stated this was the Renaissance Neighborhood. In this same speech he mentions that he would stop at that time frame for a moment if he was allowed. I wonder if this speech was at all an inspiration for this corridor.
“…I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and esthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would even go by the way that the man for whom I’m named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg.”
Another significant section from this speech is when he talks about the parable from the bible. How Jesus explains about a man who falls down and the priest and Levite walked past without helping him. But a man of a different race got off his mule and helped the man. Dr. King went on to ask, why was it that the priest and Levite didn’t help but the other, “good” man did. Dr. King imagined that maybe the first two were scared. They feared that on such a dangerous road the fallen man might try to trick them and cause them harm.
“And so the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
I think in essence that’s what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was expressing; his ultimate hope that everyone would enjoy helping each other. He hoped that there would be a unity among everyone. He hoped that strangers would stop what they were doing to help another stranger and not have fear or animosity. And he hoped that all of us listening would hope that too.