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Dan Gilmore / December 21, 2015

‘Barack Obama Highway’ Memorializes the Wrong Legacy

The names of roads mean something.

The names of roads mean something. They serve as unofficial memorials, a subtle reminder of what a community chooses to recall and laud. At a ceremony last week, Riviera Beach in Palm Beach County, Florida, changed the name of Old Dixie Highway to President Barack Obama Highway, dismantling the old sign and erecting a subtle memorial to the Obama legacy. Riviera Beach Mayor Thomas Masters told a local television station that the name of the old highway was “symbolic of racism, symbolic of the Klan, symbolic of cross burnings and today we are stepping up to a new day, a new era.”

But the highway wasn’t named by a bunch of decades-old Floridian politicians who were closet racists trying to evoke the Klan. The Old Dixie Highway is a historical highway zigzagging its way from Miami to Chicago — connecting motorists from the Windy City, past Rock City in Chattanooga (as all the red barns say, you gotta see it) and all the way to the emerald coasts of Florida. The City of Riviera Beach made a great deal over the fact that the newly minted Barack Obama Highway intersected a road named “Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard.” One man preached nonviolence in the fight for civil rights for all. The other spread divisional politics and furthered government programs that coddled the poor in their poverty. While it is symbolic that Obama is black, his presidency has not actually helped black Americans trapped in poverty plantations. And if “Old Dixie” symbolizes racism, slapping Obama’s name on it is no better.

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