ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Staff File Photo By C.B. Schmelter / Members of the Howard School marching band walk past a mural of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while lining up for a memorial parade and march along M.L. King Boulevard as part of the Unity Group of Chattanooga's 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Week celebration.

Nine months after Kansas City became one of the last major cities in the United States to name a street after civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., residents voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to remove the name.

Undoubtedly, the uninformed on both sides of the issue are either cheering or outraged.

But there's more to the story than meets the eye, maybe even a lesson for those in Southern cities who want to pull down every symbol that represents one side of a Civil War that tore open our nation but remains part of our history.

Why the western Missouri city did not have a street named for King before 2019 is unclear. After all, it's not like the city was holding onto a past in which it employed racist police officials who utilized snarling dogs and powerful water hoses to quell black protesters in the 1960s.

But a year and a half ago, a group of ministers approached the city's Board of Parks and Recreation commissioners with the idea of renaming a street known as The Paseo for King.

Named for Paseo De La Reforma in Mexico City, it was designed in the 1890s as part of Kansas City's original parks and boulevard system. A portion of the street has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The parks department, which oversees the city's boulevard system, turned down the ministers because of The Paseo's already historical existence with its current name.

An effort by ministers to put the issue on the August or November 2018 ballot also fell short. The city already had a park named for King, but the then-mayor quickly formed a citizens commission to hold public hearings and make further recommendations on how to honor the slain civil rights leader. The group recommended naming a coming terminal at the city's airport for King or for renaming its 63rd Street. Redesignating The Paseo was a third option.

Shortly thereafter, a councilman abruptly attached an amendment to an economic development ordinance renaming The Paseo for King, but the amendment was stripped out before passage. Council members also discussed renaming it "Martin Luther King Jr. on The Paseo," but that effort also died.

Eventually, cowed and pressured council members, waiving a rule requiring that 75% of residents sign off on any street name change, voted in January of this year to change the name, though it wasn't what residents wanted or the citizens commission had recommended.

A grassroots group, Save The Paseo, not against King but desirous of preserving history, quickly formed, organized and got the issue on last week's ballot. The group not only won the decision to remove the name but won with nearly 70% of the vote.

Voters who spoke to the Kansas City Star and had voted in favor of returning the street to its original name indicated they felt left out by the council's abrupt action early this year.

"[W]e felt like people just weren't heard," said Diane Euston in a video on the group's Facebook page.

"They wanted to do a good thing," former Councilwoman Alissia Canady said of the ministers, "but they went about it in the wrong way."

New Mayor Quinton Lucas, who voted for the name change as a councilman, now had more tempered remarks.

"This ballot measure should remind all of us in City Hall that the way we do things matters: We must continue to legislate by bringing people together, seeking input from people with different perspectives and working to consensus-build on the issues that matter most to our community," he said.

Unfortunately, that's now how the name got changed in Kansas City, and it's not how Confederate statues have been ripped down in Southern cities over the past five years in the name of political correctness.

We have said before that attempting to hide part of our history by removing, hiding or destroying statues of those who fought on one side of the war helps no one. The slavery that was prevalent in parts of our country from its founding to the Civil War was abhorrent. But the statues are a reminder that brother fought against brother, state against state over the critical issue.

If citizens had their way in places where statues were or may be removed, we believe they would craft signs explaining who is depicted on the statue, the significance of the area in battle and how the practice of slavery in the South was ultimately outlawed with the Emancipation Proclamation and then defeated with the Union's victory in the war.

Lucas, the Kansas City mayor, said the King name change is a teachable moment.

"To the extent that the ministers didn't engage with the public," he said, "there is a place for those of us in elected office to do so. We did not. I think that was a mistake."

To be sure, King will get his due in Kansas City. But can cities in the South learn from the experience?

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT