Is dream for MLK street coming true?

Published 12:01 am Friday, July 10, 2015

In life, most changes happen slowly and incrementally. Wrinkles form without fanfare. A few gray hairs go unnoticed until one suddenly looks in the mirror and wonders what happened to the young adult who used to stare back.

Neighborhoods and streets change in much the same way. Buildings age, trees mature and sidewalks crack. A small bump in the road suddenly turns into a street filled with potholes.

For most Natchez drivers, a quick trip down Martin Luther King Jr. Street in Natchez is a trip through a community that has seen better days. It is like many of the 900 or so streets in America named after the slain Civil Rights leader that are struggling with age and decay.

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But if drivers take a slow methodical trip down the street that runs from downtown Natchez past Robert Lewis Magnet School they might see something different. They might see change — good change.

I recently took such a drive with Natchez Mayor Butch Brown at his invitation.

The block-by-block tour of the street revealed something a hurried trip could never do. With the mayor as a tour guide, I observed small changes that are slowly transforming the street into one less about abandoned houses and dilapidated structures and more about community pride.

At Beulah Street, Bilbo’s Fish Market, which was featured in the movie “Get On Up,” has been totally transformed with bright blue siding, white trim and picture windows with impressive graphics.

Houses on Madison and Oak streets have been repainted, one in a bright pink and another in a vivid yellow-orange hue. Two houses recently completed by Habitat for Humanity stand near Claiborne Street with another house under construction by the same organization nearby.

The recent work has spurred a renewed interest by residents to spruce up their properties, the mayor pointed out on the tour.

In recent years, commercial buildings, such as the one occupied by the Upper Kutz barbershop, have been rebuilt and repainted.

Near Main Street, businesses like Satya Yoga and Cajun Cookin’ have revitalized building that were left empty for a few years.

Closer inspection of the entire street reveals other properties that are in various states of construction and renovation including new housing between Oak and Purnell streets and renovation work to another house on Claiborne Street.

But the most impressive changes on MLK Jr. Street may the demolition work near George F. West Boulevard and on Prince Street.

In a matter of weeks, crews have flattened the concrete block building many locals called the Brick House. Soon they will begin building foundation and walls for a new Family Dollar.

On Prince Street, city crews are tearing down one of the biggest eyesores on the street, an abandoned house that was slowly imploding. The demolition is the first of several for the city, Brown said.

In the beginning of his term, Brown has said that Natchez will have most beautiful Martin Luther King Jr. Street in the country when his vision for the street is realized. The changes that are happening are a step in that direction.

Even still, there are areas that sorely need attention. There are still abandoned houses, overgrown lots and eyesores. But as each new development inspires residents to improve their own property and create opportunity, the mayor’s vision for Martin Luther King Jr. Street slowly becomes a reality — a reality that befits the name of the man for which it is named.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by email at