Voters in Kansas City decided by a wide margin on Tuesday to change a street back to its original name after the City Council voted in January to name it in honor of the late civil rights hero, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
With two of 124 precincts still waiting to report, nearly 70% of voters cast their ballots in favor of changing the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard back to The Paseo, The Kansas City Star reported.
With the passage of that ballot initiative, the city will soon begin to replace the more than 100 signs marking the thoroughfare, which cuts through a predominantly African-American section of town, the paper said.
Just two months after the name change took effect in February, a group calling itself Save the Paseo has gathered the signatures necessary to get a measure to restore the original name on the ballot.
The 10-mile road boulevard known as The Paseo – inspired by Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma, according to the Star – was completed in 1899.
Save the Paseo members have said their opposition to the name change had nothing to do with race but was about historic preservation. And they were upset that the council made the change without input from those who live along the street, which they say was required by a city statute.
Mayor Quinton Lucas – who introduced the resolution to name the road in honor of King as a councilman, said the way the issue was handled had been “less than ideal” and that he had learned how much “process matters.”
“People want to make sure that we engage with enough different community stakeholders, and I think it’s fair to say that did not happen,” Lucas told WDAF.
He added that moving forward, “it’s important for us to recognize this wasn’t so much a repudiation of the Dr. King name” as about a failure to bring people together.
Save the Paseo member Diane Euston said the boulevard “holds kind of a special place in so many people’s hearts.”
“It’s not just historical on paper, it’s historical in people’s memory. It’s very important to Kansas City,” she said. Euston said the movement to restore the name had brought people from across the city together, reflecting King’s “message of unity.”
“We want to make sure he’s honored, but not at the stake of people who didn’t have a say,” she said. “Today I am so proud of our city.”
More than 50 years after his murder, Kansas City was one of the last major U.S. cities not to have a street named for King, according to the Star. Prior to that, a park named for King was one of the city’s only memorials to the civil rights icon. But critics said the park was in poor condition and was not enough to commemorate a historical figure of King’s stature.
The council voted 8-4 to change the road’s name to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard after a yearslong campaign led by black pastors and officials of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Rev. Vernon P. Howard, president of the SCLC of Greater Kansas City, rejected the argument that race was not at the heart of the opposition to naming the street after King.
“This is a white-led movement that is trying to dictate to black people in the black community who our heroes should be; who we honor; where we honor them and how we honor them,” Howard told the Star. “That is the pathology of white privilege and that is the epitome of systemic structural racism.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
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