ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A walk down the 6-mile city street named for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. yields plenty of images that would surely unsettle the civil rights leader: shuttered storefronts, open-air drug markets and a glut of pawn shops, quickie check-cashing providers and liquor stores.
The urban decay along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in St. Louis can be found in other major American cities, from Houston and Milwaukee to the nation's capital.
"It's a national problem," said Melvin White, a 46-year-old postal worker in St. Louis and founder of a 3-year-old nonprofit group that is trying to restore King's legacy on asphalt. "Dr. King would be turning over in his grave."
Nearly three decades into the observance of Monday's federal holiday, the continuing decline of the most visible symbols of King's work has White and others calling for a renewed commitment to the more than 900 streets nationwide named in the Atlanta native's honor. The effort centers in St. Louis, where the small nonprofit is working to reclaim MLK roadways as a source of pride and inspiration, not disappointment over a dream derailed.
White's goals are ambitious, his resources admittedly modest. A neighborhood park is planned across the street from the group's headquarters. An urban agriculture project to encourage residents to eat healthy and grow their own food has preliminary support from nearby Washington University, one of the country's wealthiest private colleges. Above all, Beloved Streets of America wants to build community from the ashes of what was once a thriving retail corridor when White was a child.
The template can be found just a mile away. Delmar Boulevard, which saw a similar decline, is now a vibrant retail corridor packed with restaurants, nightclubs, a renovated movie theater and a boutique hotel. The renaissance earned Delmar recognition in 2007 as one of "10 Great Streets in America" by the American Planning Association.
Journalist Jonathan Tilove, who wrote a 2003 book based on visits to 650 King streets nationwide, called the King byways "black America's Main Street."
"Map them and you map a nation within a nation, a place where white America seldom goes and black America can be itself," he wrote. "It is a parallel universe with a different center of gravity and distinctive sensibilities. ... There is no other street like it."
But while streets named for King undoubtedly resonate widely in the black community, a University of Tennessee geography professor whose research explores the cultural and political significance of such streets said the compromised condition of streets named for King in St. Louis and other cities deserves broader attention.
"In some ways we racially profile these streets," said Derek Alderman, author of a 2007 study that found a smaller disparity among MLK-named streets and other "main streets" than is popularly portrayed. "We need to move beyond those images and see what concrete lives and realities are living on those streets."
More than 50 years after King led his march on Washington, communities large and small still debate whether to rename local streets in his honor. In Harrisonburg, Va., city leaders recently agreed to rename a street for King over protests by some residents. A similar debate continues in High Point, N.C., where a King street proposal first suggested two decades ago remains up in the air.
Other cities have had more success in balancing the desire to commemorate King without superseding local tradition. Alderman singled out Chapel Hill, N.C., which in 2005 renamed a major thoroughfare that abuts the University of North Carolina campus. Street signs that identify Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard also include the name "Historic Airport Road."
Chicago's Martin Luther King Drive, a major thoroughfare spanning roughly a dozen miles south of downtown, is anchored by important hubs of black life in the city. The street features grassy boulevards with stately greystones, while other segments touch rougher patches that have fallen into disrepair, including a dilapidated motel that drew community protests over crime. Gentrification is taking hold along some parts.
The major landmarks include Bronzeville, the neighborhood where numerous black activists lived or worked and tourism officials have marked with plaques. There's also Chicago State University, where Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks taught.
In Miami, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard stretches from the predominantly Cuban town of Hialeah through largely black Liberty City and into Little Haiti - a reflection of both the city's diverse demographics as well as its lingering segregation.
Along MLK Boulevard in Hialeah, where U.S. flags fly alongside Cuban ones, MLK Boulevard isn't known as the street named after a civil rights leader. Rather, it's simply referred to by its number: "La Nueve Street," or 9th Street.
The sights and sounds of MLK Boulevard change in Liberty City, where many buildings are shuttered and storefront churches can be found on almost every block. In the decades after the civil rights movement, Liberty City has seen two race riots and struggled to escape a cycle of violence and poverty.
At Miami Edison High School on the border of Liberty City and Little Haiti, 17-year-old Judith Etienne said King would be disappointed in his unfulfilled dream.
"I'm sure Martin Luther King didn't have this in his dream," she said. "There's a lot of kids dying of gang violence in this community."
For Alderman, the King street scholar, the struggle to reclaim MLK Jr. Drive in St. Louis offers a realistic portrayal of the battles King waged a half-century ago - and where such efforts need to reach into the 21st Century.
"Those street names are really powerful social indicators of how far we've come in really fulfilling the dream, and giving us an indication of where we need to do more work," he said. "As much as it may sadden us, it demarcates and defines boundaries for civil rights activism for the future. You've got something that remembers the past that actually works, in its own tragic irony, to symbolize where the struggle still is."
Associated Press writers Sophia Tareen in Chicago and Christine Armario in Miami contributed to this report.
Follow Alan Scher Zagier on Twitter at HTTP://TWITTER.COM/AZAGIER
Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos and Richard Sherman's Seattle Seahawks were the NFL's best all season, so it's fitting that they'll meet in the Super Bowl.
Nobody scored as many points or gained as many yards as the Broncos.
Nobody allowed as few points or gave up as few yards as the Seahawks.
And nobody won as many games as those clubs, either.
What a way to finish the season. When the AFC champion Broncos (15-3) play the NFC champion Seahawks (15-3) on Feb. 2 at what could be a chilly MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., it will be the first Super Bowl since 1991 pitting the league's highest-scoring team in the regular season against the team that was scored on the least, according to STATS.
It's also only the second time in the last 20 Super Bowls that the No. 1 seed in each conference reached the NFL championship game.
"It will be a great matchup," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I think it's an extraordinary opportunity to go against a guy that set all the records in the history of the game."
That, of course, would be Manning, the 37-year-old quarterback who is the only four-time NFL MVP - and no one would be surprised if No. 5 arrives the night before the Super Bowl. He established marks by throwing for 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards, helping Denver lead the league with 37.9 points and 457.3 yards per game. Manning is an inescapable pitchman, too, seen Sunday after Sunday during TV commercials. Hey, there he was selling cars during breaks in the broadcast of the NFC title game. Expect even more face time now.
Manning's oft-told tale, certain to be repeated a million times in the coming days, includes his comeback from a series of surgical procedures to his neck, attempts to cure problems that led him to sit out the entire 2011 season. That also led the Indianapolis Colts to send him packing despite two Super Bowl appearances with that club, including a title in 2007.
"It's certainly well-documented what my journey the past 2 1/2 years has been," said Manning, who could become the first starting QB to lead two franchises to titles, "but this team's overcome a lot of obstacles this year."
None more serious, perhaps, than coach John Fox's absence for about a month because of a heart operation. Other issues included the fax faux pas that precipitated the departure of pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, star linebacker Von Miller's drug-testing suspension and season-ending knee injury, and the losses of a handful of other starters on defense.
"Being in my 16th season, going to my third Super Bowl - I know how hard it is to get there," Manning said.
He threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-16 victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game Sunday. Manning's offense scored on six consecutive possessions, accounted for more than 500 yards, had zero turnovers and zero sacks.
Ol' No. 18's opposite number in two weeks, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, provides a real contrast as he seeks his - and the Seahawks' - first Super Bowl trophy.
Wilson is 6 inches shorter, 12 years younger, a skilled scrambler in only his second pro season after slipping to the third round of the draft; he's a guy who had to transfer colleges to get playing time and thought about pursuing a baseball career instead.
"Any time you get to the Super Bowl," Wilson said after Seattle beat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 on Sunday, "it's a special time."
Other members of the Seahawks getting the chance to introduce themselves to a wide audience include rugged running back Marshawn Lynch - fans tossed packs of his favorite candy, Skittles, onto the field after a 40-yard TD run in the third quarter - and Carroll, a rah-rah sort who was a title-winning college coach at Southern California.
And maybe, just maybe, some of Manning's less-heralded defensive teammates - the ones who clamped down on New England's running game Sunday and limited Brady much of the afternoon - will get their chance to shine, too.
Seattle's defense, led by Sherman, allowed an average of 14.4 points and 273.6 yards, and topped the NFL in takeaways.
On Sunday, the Seahawks forced three turnovers in the fourth quarter alone, including a victory-sealing interception by Malcolm Smith after Sherman stretched his left hand to tip Colin Kaepernick's pass away from receiver Michael Crabtree in the end zone.
"I'm the best corner in the game," said Sherman, an All-Pro. "When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're going to get."
Seattle's only other trip to the big game ended with a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006. Denver will be playing in its seventh Super Bowl and eyeing a third title, to go with those from 1998 and 1999, when current executive John Elway was the QB.
In addition to Elway, Manning can match his younger brother Eli with a second Super Bowl crown. Eli, a spectator on Sunday in Denver, won two trophies with the New York Giants, whose stadium hosts this year's Super Bowl, the first to be played outdoors at a cold-weather site.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at HTTP://TWITTER.COM/HOWARDFENDRICH
AP NFL website: WWW.PRO32.AP.ORG