Kansas City Votes To Remove King’s Name From Historic Street

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In this Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, photo, people wearing "Save The Paseo" shirts stand among attendees at a rally to keep a street named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Paseo Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. In January, the City Council voted to rename one of the city's main boulevards, The Paseo, after King, but many in the community want the old name back. A petition drive put the issue on the Nov. 5 ballot pitting neighbors against each other. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

MISSOURI – (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 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.

FILE – In this April, 20, 2019, file photo, public works employee Jerry Brooks changes a street sign from The Paseo to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Kansas City, Mo. More than 50 years after King was assassinated, the city’s efforts to honor the civil rights leader has met opposition from citizens opposed to the renaming of The Paseo, one of the city’s iconic boulevards. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

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 a 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.”

FILE – In this April 26, 2019, file photo, a motorist is framed by an ornate pergola in the median of the newly-named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Kansas City, Mo. More than 50 years after King was assassinated, the city’s efforts to honor the civil rights leader has met opposition from citizens opposed to the renaming of The Paseo, one of the city’s iconic boulevards. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

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.”

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5 COMMENTS

  1. We know this from the miserable and dark days of obama yemach shemo. Anyone who makes a critical comment is immediately labeled racist. They silence you and take away your free speech with their false accusations just like what’s being done to Pres. Trump, and unfortunately low intelligence Democrats believe everything they’re told by their idols/leaders.

    • Since I can’t sign into this web site, I’ll make my comment in reply to yours, which makes a great point.
      It was so disrespectful to generations of Kansas Citians and to a significant part of KC’s history to rename The Paseo for a good, but philandering man. It was like changing Wall Street in NY City to Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. It was very selfish of some Black people. Using their behavior as a guide, when an area goes from predominantly Black to White, the Whites should change one of the common Black street names, like Malcolm X, to Billy Graham, or Sarah Palin.

  2. I grew up in East Flatbush and lived in Canarsie while those areas were going through a transition. I also lived in Kansas City from 1980 until 1983 and drove on Paseo Drive many times. I am sure that there must be a way to honor the legacy of Dr. King while following the proper procedures in order to make a compromise. here in NYC many streets have two names. Remember we get more bees with honey than with vinegar.

  3. Ohhhhh! I was using the facebook plugin reply system, which I must have programmed not to work.
    So, I’ll reply here as well.
    It was so disrespectful to generations of Kansas Citians and to a significant part of KC’s history to rename The Paseo for a good, but philandering man. It was like changing Wall Street in NY City to Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. It was very selfish of some Black people. Using their behavior as a guide, when an area goes from predominantly Black to White, the Whites should change one of the common Black street names, like Malcolm X, to Billy Graham, or Sarah Palin.

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