PORT ALLEN — The city commemorated what would have been the 89th birthday for Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday by hosting a dedication ceremony for the renaming of La. 1 in honor of the slain Civil Rights leader. 

Port Allen is now the only city in West Baton Rouge Parish that has a street or highway named after King, according to Mayor Richard Lee, who at Monday's ceremony challenged other municipalities to follow the city's lead. 

"It took a big effort with a lot of people involved in this," Lee told the crowd gathered outside the Port Allen Depot to attend the dedication ceremony. 

The heavily traveled La. 1 will now be known as the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Highway from Rosedale Road to Avenue G in Port Allen. The name change required the approval of the state Legislature, made possible through a bill authored by state Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Brusly, who was present Monday to present the proclamation for the highway's renaming. 

Efforts to honor King in some way in the city have been a struggle for local community leaders and activists for nearly two decades, according to the mayor. 

"For some reason we couldn't come together," Lee said.

But things picked up steam last year through a petition from the city's local chapter of the NAACP. A majority of the City Council in May voted in favor of the renaming, which elevated the effort to the state level. 

Councilwoman Ray Helen Lawrence recalled a time when King visited Baton Rouge to lead a march from Southern University into downtown. 

"We had young people not afraid to fight," she said. "We're doing things now to accomplish many things for our people." 

But Garrett Brown, president of the city's local NAACP chapter, noted that it shouldn't have taken the city this long to honor the Civil Rights hero. 

"We can celebrate today, even though we're behind," he said. "(but) we have to do better. We have to stand up."

In a remark he made toward politicians Brown added, "We want to support politicians, but I refuse to drink another soda or eat a hot dog for my vote. I need laws changed. Things could be much better."  

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.