King Honored With Freeway Caravan

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RENO, NV - Tens of thousands travel U-S 395 through the Truckee Meadows every day and it's likely many take little notice of the few signs that also mark it as the Martin Luther King Highway.

Monday, for a short time at least, it was hard to miss a freeway parade of more than 40 cars, headlights on, ribbons waving, some bearing signs honoring King, tracing the stretch of roadway between Stead and Neil Road.

The designation and the caravan date back to 1998. A campaign to add King's name to the local landscape began years earlier and capped a struggle that dates back decades further.

In the years following World War II, almost all of Reno's casinos and restaurants were closed to blacks.

The contradictions seem remarkable today. Sammy Davis Jr., might be headlining at the Riverside Hotel Casino, but he couldn't stay there and instead had to find lodgings with a local family.

It was a world Rev. Onie Cooper thought he had left behind in his native south, one he and a handful of others like Eddie Scott and Bertha Woodard would spend their lives trying to change.

Their struggle was inspired by Dr. King, so it was no surprise that by the 1990's Cooper would suggest renaming a local street after him.

For years those proposals were turned down, finally prompting then-Governor Bob Miller to accuse local governments of purposefully raising artificial objections.

Miller offered to rename a portion of U-S 395. The Martin Luther King Highway and the caravan followed.

The renaming hasn't had the same impact Cooper wanted, but in the diverse group of motorists that gathered today it made its own point.

"It's not just a street in a high minority neighborhood," says longtime NAACP spokesman Lonnie Feemster. "It's a major thoroughfare that crosses our entire community. It's the importance of different people coming together to spend some time to memorializing the spirit of Dr. King."

For the first time in 13 years Cooper himself was missing from the caravan.

He's currently hospitalized with complications resulting from Parkinson's Disease. Others vow to continue the tradition.