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A Very Worthy Name

February 05, 1989

What's in a name? Shakespeare's question comes up again with the San Diego City Council's decision to name the not-yet completed convention center for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Synchronous with the vote was the warning that commissioners of the San Diego Unified Port District, who have the final say, might refuse to approve the new name.

Why? We are puzzled. Since naming public facilities after public, and some not so public, figures seems to be an ingrained habit, and a harmless one at that, the objection can hardly be on that score.

Is it that the convention center itself, problem-plagued and unproven, seems an unworthy object to bear the name of a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a man who gave his energies and finally his life in the cause of freedom, brotherhood and justice? Perhaps.

But the committee that spent months holding public hearings on this matter and the council have concluded that, at present, San Diego has nothing better to offer.

Is a convention center named for Dr. King marketable? The center is a business enterprise, after all. What's in this name that can actually burnish the appeal of the new center?

For a city long plagued by its insular image, the answer should be obvious. Martin Luther King became an American hero because he embodied the nation's highest values. The fact that San Diego wishes to attach his name to the convention center indicates a social awareness, a willingness to look beyond our own borders and a sophistication that ought to increase the undoubted attractiveness of the city in the minds of convention planners around the country.

What's in the name of Martin Luther King, whom we honor in a national holiday, that makes it "inappropriate" for the convention center? Do the port commissioners fear that, even though they themselves are free of racial prejudice, other people in other places are not, and that the name of a black American will influence those people to stay away?

They may resent the fact that, because the voters rejected the naming of Market Street for Dr. King, they now face an unwanted responsibility. Such feelings are not unreasonable. But they must be balanced against the need--which Dr. King and the civil rights movement so eloquently demonstrated--for people somewhere, sometime to take a stand for liberty and equality, risky though that may be.

In this case, the risk appears minuscule and the benefits great. The City Council should be applauded for recognizing this. We hope the port commissioners will be equally foresighted. Taylor Branch's prize-winning new biography of King, "Parting the Waters," might help them make up their minds.

WILLIAM and AIMEE CHEEK

San Diego

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