The decision comes less than a year after the city council voted to rename The Paseo, a 10-mile boulevard running through a predominately Black area of the city, in the civil rights icon’s honor. The proposal to remove King’s name received about 70 percent of the vote while just over 30 percent voted to retain his name, unofficial results showed.
The debate over the name change has been a divisive one, with one side accusing the other of racism.
Supporters of King’s name celebrated when their years-long push to honor the Atlanta pastor was approved earlier this year. Their rejoicing was short-lived, however, as a group of residents intent on keeping The Paseo name began collecting signatures to get the name change on the ballot — a goal they achieved in April.
Diane Euston, a leader of the Save the Paseo group, said retaining the original name would “mean something to everyone in Kansas City.”
“It holds kind of a special place in so many people’s hearts and memories,” Euston told the AP. “It’s not just historical on paper, it’s historical in people’s memory. It’s very important to Kansas City.”
Tensions came to a head last Sunday when members with the “Save the Paseo” group staged a silent protest at a get-out-the-vote rally at a black church for supporters of keeping King’s name. The demonstrators stood silently, lining the walls of the church as parishioners objected to their presence, calling the protest “disrespectful.”
Supporters of the MLK name have blasted their opponents as racist, arguing the Save the Paseo campaign is backed by mostly white residents who don’t live on the street, located on Kansas City’s mostly Black east side.
Many have spoken of the impact a sign bearing King’s name has had on the community’s children.
“I think that only if you’re a black child growing up in the inner city lacking the kind of resources, lacking the kind of images and models for mentoring, modeling, vocation and career, can you understand what that name on that sign can mean to a child in this community,” said the Rev. Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference‘s Kansas City chapter.
If the sign were removed, “the reverse will be true,” he said.
Meanwhile, those with the Save the Paseo group say city leaders sided with King supporters and approved the name change without following proper procedure, thus ignoring the Paseo’s history. Completed in 1899, it became one of the city’s first boulevards and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In April, the Save the Paseo group collected 2,857 signatures in their effort to reverse the council’s January decision to rename the street after MLK Jr. Voters approved the switch Tuesday, once again making Kansas City one of the largest cities in the U.S. without a street honoring the late civil rights leader.
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