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Spokane Council Renames Community Center For MLK

City of Spokane

A two year long debate has led to a new name for an old community center in Spokane.

The Spokane City Council on Monday night renamed the longstanding community center in the city’s East Central neighborhood after the late civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.

The neighborhood and center have generational ties with the city’s African-American population, whose ability to own or rent a home was severely curtailed by racist housing laws in the mid-20th century.

But the East Central community was split by the name change.

“I was at the center when it was Edison Elementary School. I was there when it became the East Central Community Center and I continue to live there. And it has divided the East Central Community," said Betsy Wilkerson, the council's only black member.

Some advocated for its former name - the East Central Community Center - saying it better represented the neighborhood and its history.

Two years ago, the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center began operating the city-owned building. That contract said the center would eventually be named for the civil rights icon.

Wilkerson proposed a compromise, leading to a unanimous vote for the new Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center at East Central.

Nick Deshais previously served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for SPR, Northwest Public Broadcasting and the Northwest News Network.