New name, new beginning: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Parkway to be a reminder to serve

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Hopkins Street in New Iberia is lined with old shotgun houses, seafood markets, an elementary school and a few locally owned restaurants and small businesses. Some of the buildings stand vacant, and at least one lot remains covered in debris of a home that was demolished but not removed.

But Monday the street, also known as state Highway 675, received a new name and what some hope will be a new beginning.

New Iberia City Councilman Marlon Lewis and fellow Councilwoman Deedy Johnson-Reed unveiled a new street sign that read "Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Parkway" on the holiday that honors its namesake.

"It's a new beginning for Hopkins Street, a street that has been left behind when it comes to business and commerce," Lewis said. "And we are celebrating a hero, a prophet. It's an exciting day for me and the community at large — a historical moment."

A small crowd of government officials and residents clapped as the new name became visible, some singing "We Shall Overcome" from behind their masks as they stood in the parking lot of Moore's Soul Food Cafe and Catering.

Dedication of Hopkins Street (Hwy. 675) as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Highway in New Ideria, LA.  Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.
Dedication of Hopkins Street (Hwy. 675) as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Highway in New Ideria, LA. Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.

New Iberia native Precious Jacobs has been working in the city's West End for years, providing food, toys and other donations through Ja'Vian's Congregation of Hope, a nonprofit she founded in honor of her late son.

She knows this name change and highway dedication means a lot to the neighborhood and the Black community of New Iberia, because she knows what it means to her.

"It's finally some recognition for the Black community," Jacobs said. "We were one of the few cities that don't have a Martin Luther King Drive. It's not just a street sign. It's more for us."

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Nicolas Launay watched the unveiling holding his 3-year-old son Selyan on his shoulders. They took a photo by the sign alongside Lewis and other members of the community.

Dedication of Hopkins Street (Hwy. 675) as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Highway in New Ideria, LA.  Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.
Dedication of Hopkins Street (Hwy. 675) as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Highway in New Ideria, LA. Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.

Launay teaches French at North Lewis Elementary School about 3 miles from where the new sign is. He grew up in the French West Indies, which shares a similar history of segregation and inequality.

"I grew up with that," he said. "I love the United States; I love to live here, but it is still very painful to see the inequality."

His first vacations in the U.S. were spent visiting Selma, Alabama, and following the Civil Rights Trail. He saw Monday's street dedication as another step in that journey.

"I am very hopeful for America and for my son that, like Martin Luther King said, we will not judge people 'by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,'" Launay said.

The sign unveiled at the highway's intersection with Field Street is not the only one. Signs are posted along the street from Highway 90 to Admiral Doyle Drive, including one directly in front of Johnston Hopkins Elementary.

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That's likely not a coincidence. Johnson-Reed, who represents District 5 on the city council, reminded the crowd of King's strong belief in education, and she urged young people to not only go to school but to be ready to learn when they get there.

She hopes the new street signs and name serve as another reminder for citizens of New Iberia, young and old.

"Dr. King left a legacy of service for all of us," she said. "He broke the chains of Jim Crow in the South so all of us here could achieve what we want to achieve. Every time you ride down Hopkins Street, think about what is your legacy, what are you going to do to make New Iberia better?"

Contact children's issues reporter Leigh Guidry at Lguidry@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: New Iberia street becomes Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Parkway

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