Kansas City, Missouri, voters will decide if a lengthy and historic street named in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. should keep that name or revert to its old one.
Until January, the nearly 10-mile-long, street through the city’s predominantly black east side was known as The Paseo. The City Council voted to rename it Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, but many in the community want the old name back. The Kansas City Star reports that a petition drive successfully put the issue on the Nov. 5 ballot.
A group called Save The Paseo says it wants to honor King, but that the street is the wrong choice because of its historic importance to the city. The Paseo derives its name from Paseo de la Reforma, a grand avenue that cuts across the heart of Mexico City. The street in Kansas City was completed in 1899 and is known for its ornate fountains, pergolas and broad green space. The north end is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Save The Paseo objects to what members see as “disenfranchisement” of neighborhoods along the street, including the council’s decision to waive a community outreach requirement for changing a street name.
“We love Dr. Martin Luther King,” group spokesman Kellie Jones said. “We want him to be honored, but with a great man, he deserves a great honor. That great honor should be something that’s not pushed and rushed.”
But ministers who pushed for naming the street in honor of King worry about the message that will be sent if his name is removed. They say the street’s beauty and prominence make it an appropriate tribute to the civil rights leader, who was assassinated in 1968.
Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City and one of several black clergy urging the movement for a King street, said Kansas City was believed to be one of the nation’s only major cities without one.
“So we’re the last to do that, and now we’ll be the first to strip that away if it were to occur,” Howard said.
Opponents of the name change started collecting signatures for a citywide vote soon after the City Council’s decision. Jones said Save The Paseo volunteers have been knocking on doors, handing out fliers, appearing at neighborhood meetings and making shirts.
Howard said his group is out in the community with yard signs and literature.
City leaders are largely staying in the background. Mayor Quinton Lucas championed the re-designation but hasn’t been active in the campaign to maintain it.