On Monday, Jan. 16, residents of Columbus will gather once again to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, honoring the civil rights leader with a breakfast at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, an open house event at the King Arts Complex, a march and an evening program - held this year at East High School.

On Monday, Jan. 16, residents of Columbus will gather once again to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, honoring the civil rights leader with a breakfast at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, an open house event at the King Arts Complex, a march and an evening program - held this year at East High School.

With such longstanding traditions, one might easily forget the hard-won fight to cement MLK Day as a federal holiday. As outlined by the King Center, the first legislation for MLK Day was introduced in 1968, but not signed into law until 1983. And it wasn't until 1999 that all 50 states agreed to enact the holiday.

Similarly, with nearly 900 U.S. streets named for King as of 2014 - according to research by University of Tennessee geography department head Derek Alderman - one might not realize the complex process of establishing those geographical markers. In the case of Columbus, naming Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which runs from East Spring Street and Hamilton Avenue to Mt. Vernon and St. Clair avenues, brought up issues of race, money and community preservation.

If it were up to former City Councilman Ben Espy, MLK Boulevard would have replaced Long Street. He brought the proposal before Council, which passed the ordinance by a vote of four to three on Jan. 23, 1984.

"We were one of the major cities in the country who didn't have a street named after Dr. King, and he had always been a hero of mine," Espy said during an early January interview at his law office on Hamilton Park. "Most MLK streets in the country, they're just in the black community, but I wanted a street that would go Downtown so when the suburban people came in town, they would have to be touched by that street in some way."

One week later, however, the ordinance was reconsidered and tabled by a vote of five to two. It was never revisited.

"The businesses and some other residential homes on Long Street started arguing the fact they did not want to change their letterhead [because] it would be too expensive," Espy said. "There was a lot of hidden meaning behind their arguments. Council basically caved in and reversed themselves."

"I remember Ben saying, 'People [are] coming in here and spewing their racial venom,'" said Judge David Cain, who attended council meetings as deputy director for the Columbus Department of Development.

Some longtime black business owners on East Long Street share Espy's opinion that some Long Street businesses in the Downtown area, which were white-owned, may have allowed racial prejudice to influence their opposition to the name change.

"My personal view is that a lot of the Downtown businesses didn't want to be associated with the name Martin Luther King," said Richard Diehl, owner of Diehl-Whittaker Funeral/Cremation Services, who testified in favor of the change.

Although he doesn't recall hearing about Espy's proposal, Steve Young, owner of Chick's Camera Exchange Downtown on Long Street, said he can understand the cost concerns.

"In the old days, we'd probably buy 5,000 envelopes [and] 5,000 stationery," Young said, and explained they managed invoices for clients, including other companies, in-house. "It would be thousands of dollars for us for one business."

That reason would have "probably stopped" them from accepting the name change, Young said. "It would have been a financial burden."

"What surprised me [was] there were also some black people, too, that were against it," Espy said. "They said Long Street has so much historical significance."

Indeed East Long Street is a part of the historic King-Lincoln District, known for being a cultural, business and entertainment hub in the African-American community.

The city eventually dedicated the current MLK Boulevard, which runs about 1,000 feet, and opened the King Arts Complex, a multi-disciplinary arts institution, in early 1987.

"They did what I didn't want them to do, [which] was name a little corner down here … which did not achieve the purpose that I wanted to achieve," Espy said.

More than 20 years later, the late Rev. Melvin Steward took up the cause to extend MLK Boulevard east from St. Clair Avenue to Woodland Avenue - and thus rename Mt. Vernon Avenue and a portion of Greenway Avenue - though it still wouldn't take the street Downtown, as Espy envisioned.

Steward, the former president of the Mount Vernon Avenue District Improvement Association, submitted a formal request to City Council in 2009 even though he didn't have full support from the association.

"That was something that we, as a board, didn't really agree with," said Al Edmondson, Steward's successor and owner of A Cut Above the Rest barber shop. Citing well-publicized research showing MLK streets concentrated in distressed neighborhoods, Edmondson and other board members wanted to avoid stigmatizing the East Side. "We didn't want that image to be painted about our neighborhood," he said.

The board was also concerned about the fee that would have to be paid to the King Center to use King's name.

"There's other things that we can do with those resources to help the businesses in the neighborhood," Edmondson said.

Additionally, the board wanted to preserve the Mt. Vernon name.

The city's Historic Resources Commission agreed and rejected Steward's request, citing the "complete and total loss of the Mt. Vernon Avenue street name and historic identity."

Although some community members still lament the short length of MLK Boulevard, others view the King Arts Complex as a sufficient way to represent King's legacy.

"It's quite an honor," said Glenn A. Ray, the institution's founding executive director. "The contribution of the City of Columbus for the King Arts Complex, to me, is far more important than how long a street is named after Dr. King."