Kansas City voters decide to remove MLK’s name from street


Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 11/7/2019, 12:23 p.m.
Kansas City voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved removing..

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, reports the Associated Press. Unofficial results showed the proposal to remove King’s name received nearly 70 percent of the vote. 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 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.