Since his assassination in 1968, more than a thousand streets have been named after Martin Luther King Jr. But after over a year of disputes and hostility, one city where you’ll no longer find a boulevard honoring the civil rights icon is in Kansas City, Mo.
New York Times reports that on Tuesday, the community voted in favor of removing King’s name from a historic boulevard that runs through the city’s predominantly black eastside, making Kansas City one of the largest cities in the country without a street honoring the late minister and civil rights activist.
“Shameful day for Kansas City,” Rev. Dr. Vernon P. Howard Jr., president of the city’s chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said. “[This decision has] set us decades back in the march toward racial justice and racial inclusion.”
What’s interesting is that while you’d assume that black folks would be unanimously in favor of honoring King in this manner, Kansas City’s black community are divided on the issue.
From the Times:
But those who wanted the street returned to its former name, Paseo Boulevard, heralded the result as a win for a black community that they say was ignored when the decision to change the name to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard was first made.
“Dr. King’s dream is real,” said Alissia Canady, a black former councilwoman who opposed naming the street for Dr. King. “And black voters won’t allow anybody, black or otherwise, to disenfranchise them in Kansas City.”
Racial connotations—which seemingly factored heavily into this decision—aside, what’s also at play is how the initial name change impacted business, tourism, and the historical significance of Paseo Boulevard. It was completed in 1899 and is the first boulevard in the city.
However, it’s only fair to note that while the “Save the Paseo” movement accrued thousands of signatures for its cause and garnered support from black residents, it is helmed by a pair of white women—and its membership is not only predominantly white, but most of them don’t even live on that street.
“This is white-led, trying to dictate to the African-American community who it honors, where they’re honored, how they’re honored,” Howard said. “We believe that is systemic and structural racism.”
There are black residents who push back on that narrative and insist that while they’re in favor of reinstating the Paseo name, that doesn’t mean they’re against honoring King. They merely would prefer to find other ways to do so.
“I know who I work with,” Kellie Jones, who lives on Paseo, said. “It’s black and brown people, it’s disenfranchised people and it’s people who feel like they do not have a voice.”
And to that end, it appears the people have spoken.