Kansas City Votes to Remove Martin Luther King Jr’s Name from Historic Street

In this Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, photo, people wearing "Save The Paseo" shirts stand among attendees at a rally to keep a street named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Paseo Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.

In this Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, photo, people wearing "Save The Paseo" shirts stand among attendees at a rally to keep a street named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Paseo Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

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Residents voted overwhelmingly to restore MLK Jr. Boulevard back to its original name, The Paseo.

The existence of a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri was short-lived.

Voters in Kansas City nixed the street name in Tuesday’s election, opting to restore the street back to its original name, The Paseo.

While the fight over renaming the 10-mile stretch of roadway touched on issues of race, those involved in the Save the Paseo campaign said their opposition stemmed from the way the city went about renaming what they considered to be an already historic roadway. They said lawmakers did not conduct adequate outreach to residents who live on or near the boulevard and failed to take their concerns into account. 

After the Tuesday vote, Rev. Dr. Vernon P. Howard Jr., president of the city’s chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, told the New York Times that the vote was a “shameful day for Kansas City” that would set back the city’s progress on racial justice. 

Voter turnout was low for the election, with approximately 33,000 people or about 15% of voters casting ballots. Of those, 65% voted in favor of restoring the street’s original name.

The Paseo runs north-to-south on the predominantly black east side of town and is one of the oldest boulevards in the city.

Kansas City council members voted 8-4 in January to rename The Paseo after King, noting that the city was the largest in the United States that did not honor King with a street. The council did not put the decision to a vote by the street’s residents, as local ordinance requires.  

A city-appointed advisory group previously made three recommendations for ways to honor King. The suggestion with the most support was naming a new airport terminal after King, followed by renaming 63rd Street which runs east-to-west across both predominantly white and black neighborhoods, and finally renaming The Paseo. 

The Kansas City Star reported that Diane Euston, a member of Save The Paseo, said the organization wants to find another way to honor King. They just objected to the lack of community input on renaming The Paseo, she said. 

“I’m proud of Kansas City, so proud, because we felt like people just weren’t heard,” Euston said.

The cost to install the signs bearing King’s name was $60,000. Reinstalling the old street signs is expected to cost another $40,000.

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Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty.

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