Kansas City Votes To Remove Dr. Martin Luther King’s Name From Historic Street

The Associated Press


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City vot­ers on Tuesday over­whelm­ing­ly approved remov­ing Dr. Martin Luther King’s name from one of the city’s most his­toric boule­vards, less than a year after the city coun­cil decid­ed to rename The Paseo for the civ­il rights icon.

Unofficial results vote showed the pro­pos­al to remove King’s name received near­ly 70% of the vote, with just over 30% vot­ing to retain King’s name.

The debate over the name of the 10-mile (16.1 kilo­me­ter) boule­vard on the city’s most­ly black east side began short­ly after the council’s deci­sion in January to rename The Paseo for King. Civil rights lead­ers who pushed for the change cel­e­brat­ed when the street signs went up, believ­ing they had final­ly won a decades-long bat­tle to hon­or King, which appeared to end Kansas City’s rep­u­ta­tion as one of the largest U.S. cities in the coun­try with­out a street named for him.

But a group of res­i­dents intent on keep­ing The Paseo name began col­lect­ing peti­tions to put the name change on the bal­lot and achieved that goal in April.

The cam­paign has been divi­sive, with sup­port­ers of King’s name accus­ing oppo­nents of being racist, while sup­port­ers of The Paseo name say city lead­ers pushed the name change through with­out fol­low­ing prop­er pro­ce­dures and ignored The Paseo’s his­toric val­ue.

Emotions reached a peak Sunday, when mem­bers of the “Save the Paseo” group staged a silent protest at a get-out-the-vote ral­ly at a black church for peo­ple want­i­ng to keep the King name. They walked into the Paseo Baptist Church and stood along its two aisles. The pro­test­ers stood silent­ly and did not react to sev­er­al speak­ers that accused them of being dis­re­spect­ful in a church but they also refused requests from preach­ers to sit down.

The Save the Paseo group col­lect­ed 2,857 sig­na­tures in April — far more than the 1,700 need­ed — to have the name change put to a pub­lic vote.

Many sup­port­ers of the Martin Luther King name sug­gest­ed the oppo­nents are racist, say­ing Save the Paseo is a most­ly white group and that many of its mem­bers don’t live on the street, which runs north to south through a large­ly black area of the city. They said remov­ing the name would send a neg­a­tive image of Kansas City to the rest of the world, and could hurt busi­ness and tourism.

Supporters of the Paseo name reject­ed the alle­ga­tions of racism, say­ing they have respect for King and want the city to find a way to hon­or him. They opposed the name change because they say the City Council did not fol­low city char­ter pro­ce­dures when mak­ing the change and didn’t noti­fy most res­i­dents on the street about the pro­pos­al. They also said The Paseo is an his­toric name for the city’s first boule­vard, which was com­plet­ed in 1899. The north end of the boule­vard is list­ed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The City Council vot­ed in January to rename the boule­vard for King, respond­ing to a years­long effort from the city’s black lead­ers and pres­sure from the local chap­ter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tion that King helped start.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a min­is­ter and for­mer Kansas City may­or who has pushed the city to rename a street for King for years, was at Sunday’s ral­ly. He said the pro­test­ers were wel­come, but he asked them to con­sid­er the dam­age that would be done if Kansas City removed King’s name.

I am stand­ing here sim­ply beg­ging you to sit down. This is not appro­pri­ate in a church of Jesus Christ,” Cleaver told the group.

Tim Smith, who orga­nized the protest, said it was designed to force the black Christian lead­ers who had mis­char­ac­ter­ized the Save the Paseo group as racist to “say it to our faces.”

If tonight, some­one wants to char­ac­ter­ize what we did as hos­tile, vio­lent, or unciv­il, it’s a mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of what hap­pened,” Smith said. “We didn’t say any­thing, we didn’t do any­thing, we just stood.”

The Rev. Vernon Howard, pres­i­dent of the Kansas City chap­ter of the SCLU, told The Associated Press that the King street sign is a pow­er­ful sym­bol for every­one but par­tic­u­lar­ly for black chil­dren.

I think that only if you are a black child grow­ing up in the inner city lack­ing the kind of resources, lack­ing the kinds of images and mod­els for men­tor­ing, mod­el­ing, voca­tion and career, can you actu­al­ly under­stand what that name on that sign can mean to a child in this com­mu­ni­ty,” Howard said.

If the sign were tak­en down, “the reverse will be true,” he said.

What peo­ple will won­der in their minds and hearts is why and how some­thing so good, uplift­ing and edi­fy­ing, how can some­thing like that be tak­en away?” he said.

But Diane Euston, a leader of the Save the Paseo group, said that The Paseo “doesn’t just mean some­thing to one com­mu­ni­ty in Kansas City.”

It means some­thing to every­one in Kansas City,” she said. “It holds kind of a spe­cial place in so many people’s hearts and mem­o­ries. It’s not just his­tor­i­cal on paper, it’s his­tor­i­cal in people’s mem­o­ry. It’s very impor­tant to Kansas City.”