Honorary street names are common in Chicago but no street has been fully renamed in over four decades:
Renaming the street — rather than giving it an honorary title — would require replacing street signs and printing new road maps, as well as navigating some confusion at the post office as residents and businesses along the road adjusted to the change. Those costs, combined with the political brokering necessary to pick an appropriate honoree, make an official change a rare occurrence in Chicago. The last time a street was officially renamed was in 1968, when then-Mayor Richard J. Daley approved a push to name the former South Park Way to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
At the time, Daley was accused of political pandering, choosing a South Side street for the dedication in the hopes of endearing himself to black voters ahead of that year’s Democratic National Convention, according to a biography of the former mayor. Sound familiar? Regardless, the plan got council approval, and Chicago joined the hundreds of American cities with roads named after King.
Stony Island Avenue was the subject of another renaming proposal in 1989, when the Committee on Streets and Alleys debated naming it in honor of former Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. Like Brazier, Muhammad was a leader of the black community in Chicago. According to the Chicago Tribune archives, 15 black aldermen sponsored the push to name Stony Island in his honor.
This is interesting, particularly given Chicago’s propensity to change street names prior to the 1960s. When doing some work this summer, I found out that scores of Chicago street names had changed from the early 1900s through the 1960s. See this PDF file involving street name changes – by 1948 there were enough changes to fill 164 pages. Imagine the confusion this all must have caused: as the city was growing from from just over 1 million residents in 1890 to over 3.6 million in 1950, street names were consistently changing.
On one hand, I understand the desire for consistency but shouldn’t there be room for street names to change as cities themselves change? As new people come and go and events happen, street names can’t stay the same forever.