Saturday, November 8, 2014

As I Walked Out in the Streets of Lubbock, or, What's In a Street Name?

Like many cities in the flat central portion of the United States, Lubbock is laid out in an orderly grid system. The streets are straight and wide, and for the most part they cross each other at perfect right angles. One of the first things my wife Karen commented on when we moved to Lubbock was how wide the streets are. The street naming system is designed to make navigating the city easy. East-west streets are numbered, and north-south avenues are alphabetical, named after trees on the east side of the city, the letters of the alphabet (Avenue A, etc.), and then on the west side, cities east of the Mississippi River (Albany, Boston, Canton, etc.).

This was in stark contrast to Charlotte, NC, where we had lived for the last fourteen years. Charlotte streets always seemed to me a tangled mess, twisting, weaving, rising and falling, often narrow, changing names unpredictably. Having grown up with Lubbock's orderly street system, even after more than a decade in Charlotte, I still often got disoriented trying to navigate around the city. I never felt that I knew which direction I was facing. To make matters worse, there is no rhyme or reason to the street naming system in Charlotte. With the exception of a handful of numbered streets in the downtown area, Charlotte streets are assigned names pretty much at random. Without a map or a GPS system, there is no way to find an address on an unfamiliar street without asking for directions.

There have, of course, always been exceptions to Lubbock's orderly street naming system. Until 1993, one of the major streets on Lubbock's east side was called Quirt Avenue. According to Webster's Dictionary, a quirt is "a riding whip with a short handle and a rawhide lash." The origin of this street name is unclear, although it probably refered to the whips used by Spanish settlers as they herded their cattle across the Texas range. However, the name became problematic in the 1960s as Lubbock's African American population became increasingly concentrated in the neighborhood that Quirt Avenue crossed. Whatever the origin of the name, a street named after a whip was a constant reminder of slavery all that was associated with it.

Starting in the 1970s, several petitions were presented to the Lubbock city council requesting that the name of Quirt Avenue be changed. Finally, in 1993, the council voted unanimously to approve the latest petition, and the name of the street was changed to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, to honor the slain civil rights leader. The change thankfully reversed a decade's long insult to Lubbock's African-American community. It also set a precedent that opened the door to further changes in the city's street naming system, as Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard was the first street in Lubbock to be named after a person.

Since M.L.K. Jr. Blvd, there have been several other Lubbock street names changed to honor people. Mexican-American labor activist Cesar Chavez was given a street in Lubbock's predominantly Hispanic north side in 2008.

Other streets have been named for people, living or dead, who were born in or have a direct connection to Lubbock. The first of these, in 1996, was Buddy Holly Avenue, formerly a stretch of Avenue H running through downtown Lubbock.

Buddy Holly, Lubbock's most famous resident, was, of course, one of the founding fathers of rock-and-roll music. Before his life was tragically cut short by a plane crash on February 3, 1959 (the day the music died), Holly, with his band the Crickets, pioneered a style that helped bridge the divide between country and rhythm-and-blues, between "white" and "black" music. He influenced the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and numerous other rock performers who came after him. He was one of the first rock musicians to write and produce his own songs. Today, a museum, the Buddy Holly Center, and a statue of the singer stand at the corner of 19th Street and Buddy Avenue. This mural adorns the wall of a business across the street:

Two more Lubbock artists have been honored with street names. In terms of creative significance, most would argue that Mac Davis can hardly be placed in the same league with Buddy Holly. However, the Lubbock native who wrote several hits for Elvis Presley before enjoying a successful singing and television career in the 1970s, was given a section of 6th Street from University Avenue to Avenue Q.

And in 2005, visual artist Glenna Goodacre, a Lubbock native, was honored with a section of 8th Street, also running from University Avenue to Avenue Q. Goodacre is a prolific sculptor probably best know for designing the obverse side of the Sacagewea dollar and the Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington, DC.

The Marsh Sharp Freeway, a segment of US Highway 82 that cuts an east-west path through Lubbock, honors the former head coach of the Texas Tech women's basketball team. Under Sharp's leadership from 1982-2006, the Lady Raiders won several conference titles and the NCAA national championship in 1993.

Photo from Marsha Sharp's Wikipedia page, cropped

There will certainly be more opportunities in the future to honor people who have in some way brought recognition to Lubbock through their contributions to society. I have a few suggestions for future Lubbock street names:

  • Barry Corbin was born in Lamesa, south of Lubbock, but graduated from Lubbock Monterey high school and Texas Tech University. He is a prominent TV and film actor probably best known as the astronaut Maurice Minnifield on the television series Northern Exposure. He is also a rancher and skilled and avid horseman, who appears regularly at the annual National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration held each September in Lubbock.
  • The Lubbock Lake Landmark, in a canyon in the northwest part of the city, features a physical record of uninterrupted occupation by humans that covers the last 12 thousand years. In honor of the earliest of the human cultures recorded at this archeological site, the Clovis culture, I suggest "Clovis Person Avenue" as an appropriate name for a street adjacent to the Lubbock Lake Landmark.
  • Finally, one that probably won't be adopted for some years to come, Natalie Maines is the daughter of local musician Lloyd Maines, a graduate of Lubbock High School, and was for a short time the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, one of the most successful country music groups of all time. Her career took a nosedive when she had the courage to speak her mind, an action not generally recommended in the world of country music.

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