City Councilor Chris Hoy is pushing for Center Street to be renamed Martin Luther King Avenue. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Jonathan Jones has wanted a recognition of the civil rights movement in Salem for some time but felt that the current moment was the right time to approach someone about making a change.

Jones, who owns Epilogue Kitchen and Cocktails, posted on social media that there was nothing in Salem, no streets or murals, commemorating the decades-long struggle to end racial discrimination and segregation in the U.S.

Salem City Councilor Chris Hoy saw his idea and ran with it.

Last week, Hoy announced he would make a motion at the July 13 city council meeting to change the name of Center Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. If it’s approved by a majority of the council, then the plan can move forward.

He said he wanted to pick a street that was significant in the city but didn’t undo the acknowledgement of something else.

“Center Street is the most utilitarian, innocuous sounding name I can imagine,” Hoy said.

Jones said the lack of public acknowledgement in Salem about the civil rights movement feeds directly into a lack of education about it.

“Changing the name of a street to a civil rights icon, while it may seem trivial on the face of it, is the first major building block for holding public conversations and for changing public perception,” Jones said.

Salem is one of only 14 state capitals that don’t have a street name commemorating King, Jones said.

He said the street name creates visibility and starts an ongoing conversation about race.

“It’s one of a many-faceted approach that needs to be taken in order to combat white supremacy,” he said.

Center Street used to be named Asylum Avenue when the Oregon State Hospital was called the Oregon State Insane Asylum in the late 1800s. 

Hoy said the street name change would be another level of healing past the controversial name that serves as a reminder of the dehumanizing conditions of the state hospital’s past.

“It’s so important that we not only acknowledge but embrace history and acknowledge our past so we can move forward,” Hoy said. “Sometimes we have difficulty acknowledging the things that make us uncomfortable.”

Hoy said the city will have to talk to the Marion County Board of Commissioners and the Oregon Department of Transportation to have the Center Street bridge renamed as well if the proposal goes through.

He said the rules are straightforward in the city code and the name change can be phased in to mitigate the impacts of businesses having to change their addresses. 

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Have a story tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.