Martin Luther King Jr.'s name removed from historic street by Kansas City voters

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Ronny Koch

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Jan 23, 2022, 10:05:02 PM1/23/22
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A historic 10-mile road in Kansas City, Mo., will no longer be
known as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., after having nearly
100 signs erected with his name stand for only nine months.

The proposal to remove the celebrated civil rights leader’s name
received overwhelming support from voters, with 70 percent
casting ballots Tuesday in favor of restoring the boulevard back
to its original name, The Paseo, according to unofficial results
reported in the Kansas City Star.

Renaming the roadway sparked a tense battle among residents,
local leaders and national politicians in a major city that will
go back to having no streets named after the civil rights icon.

A majority of city council members voted in January to rename
the boulevard, which runs through Kansas City’s predominantly
black East Side, to honor King.

Save The Paseo, a grass-roots movement, formed in response to
the city council’s waiver of a requirement that 75 percent of
residents approve changing a street’s name. Objections centered
largely on whether residents and businesses along The Paseo were
given enough notice or didn’t want the street renamed, the
Associated Press reported.

Organizers and supporters argued that the old street name held
historical significance for Kansas City and that there were
other ways to honor King’s legacy, they said.

The hotly debated boulevard is part of the city’s original plan,
and the north side of the street is under the National Register
of Historic Places, according to the Associated Press. The
Paseo’s namesake derives from a street in Mexico City that
loosely translates to “Reformation Walk,” the Kansas City Star
reported.

The Paseo was the third option to honor King.

The Kansas City Parks and Recreation Board refused a suggestion
to replace The Paseo signs with King’s name in 2018, according
to KCUR, noting that streets were to be named after people who
had made significant contributions to the city and that the 42-
acre Martin Luther King Jr. Park has honored the civil rights
leader since 1978.

In response, ministers of the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference, which King once led, started collecting signatures
to place the question on August or November 2018 ballots, but it
didn’t get enough votes, according to the Associated Press.

Then-Mayor Sylvester “Sly” James (D) formed a commission that
allowed citizens to give their recommendations for King sites,
and the group favored giving his name to a new terminal in the
Kansas City International Airport. Airport officials weren’t in
favor of the suggestion, either, according to the Associated
Press.

Renaming 63rd Street, which cuts through very wealthy and very
impoverished neighborhoods, was also an option, according to the
Kansas City Star.

On Sunday, Save The Paseo staged a silent protest at a black
church that was holding a rally for the street to remain named
after King after allegations of racism from pro-King streets
surfaced, according to the Associated Press.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), who has been trying to get the
street renamed in honor of King for years and who first proposed
in 1976 that the park have King’s name, asked Save The Paseo
protesters to sit down and to consider if their actions were
appropriate for church, according to the Associated Press.

It was a chance for black church leaders to call Save The Paseo
group members racist to their faces, one of its organizers told
the Associated Press. Members in gray shirts with the green and
white “Save The Paseo” logo that looks like street signs,
appeared to be of different ethnic and racial backgrounds,
though King Street supporters allege that the group is majority
white, according to the Associated Press.

Kansas City is nearly 60 percent white and 29 percent black,
according to census data.

There are more than 900 streets named after King in the United
States with most of them being concentrated in Southern states.
Living on a street with King’s name means one is more likely to
be black, poor or both, researchers have found.

Street-naming shows where the country stands on issues of race
relations because street names connect visual facts with
emotions, according to researchers at the University of
Tennessee who studied Martin Luther King Jr. street naming and
the politics of belonging.

“For the African American activist, place naming can be an
emotion-laden and politically charged spatial tool for
redefining the scale at which they belong in the American city
and the right to stake a claim to urban space,” they wrote.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/11/06/martin-luther-
king-jrs-name-removed-historic-street-by-kansas-city-voters/
 

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