Hoo, boy. Kansas City votes to remove MLK’s name from street

It sounds like Kansas City bought themselves a new round of protests and social angst in yesterday’s election. One year ago, the City Council voted to change the name of a historic, ten-mile long street, The Paseo, to honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But a group of residents gathered signatures to protest the change and got a referendum put on the ballot to change the name back. Yesterday, residents voted by a wide margin to approve the measure and now the street signs will be changed back again. (NY Post)

Kansas City voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved removing Dr. Martin Luther King’s name from one of the city’s most historic boulevards, less than a year after the city council decided to rename The Paseo for the civil rights icon.

Unofficial results vote showed the proposal to remove King’s name received nearly 70% of the vote, with just over 30% voting to retain King’s name.

The debate over the name of the 10-mile (16.1 kilometer) boulevard on the city’s mostly black east side began shortly after the council’s decision in January to rename The Paseo for King.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. Civil rights activists immediately cried racism over the maneuver. Supporters of the referendum countered by saying that the council didn’t follow the proper rules for renaming a street. Also, they argued that the Paseo has a rich history behind the name and deserves to be honored.

I suppose you could make that case, particularly since the street has had that name since it was constructed in the late 1800s. Also, one end of the street is on the historic register. But the name, translated from Spanish, literally just means “walk, way, or promenade.” So rather than being named after some famous person or event, the name of the street really just means… street.

It also probably doesn’t help that until they made the change earlier this year, Kansas City was the only major city in the country not having a street named after the civil rights legend. Add to that the fact that the street runs through a predominantly black neighborhood and you can probably see why tempers are flaring.

Granted, there’s no law requiring every location in the country to have a street named after MLK, but it’s certainly become an accepted tradition. Is there some sort of compromise that could be reached here that would satisfy both sides? Organizers of the referendum insist that they still want to find a way for the city to honor MLK, just not by renaming the Paseo. Is there another major street with a less historic name that could be selected? Or possibly a park or something?

I’m probably trying to be far too reasonable here. Given that it’s 2019, this will probably turn into a minor race war before it’s all over.

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