(5 Nov 2019) After nearly a year of debate that included charges of racism on one side and claims city officials bypassed rules on the other, Kansas City, Missouri, residents will decide whether to remove the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s name from an historic boulevard.
Voters will decide Tuesday if they want to change the 10-mile boulevard back to its original name, The Paseo.
The City Council voted in January to rename the boulevard to honour King, ending Kansas City’s reputation as one of the largest cities in the U.S. without a street named for the iconic civil rights leader.
The vote caught some residents by surprise and a group named Save the Paseo collected enough signatures on petitions to have the name change put to a public vote.
About 100 supporters of keeping the King name for the 10-mile (16.1-kilometer) boulevard were at a rally to court voters Sunday when opponents walked into the Paseo Baptist Church and stood along its two aisles. Those against the King name stood silently and did not respond to calls for them to sit down. Several speakers and people in the crowd told them they were being disrespectful.
Many supporters of the Martin Luther King name have suggested the opponents are racist, saying Save the Paseo is a mostly white group and that many of its members don’t live on the street, which runs north to south through a largely black area of the city. They say removing the name would send a negative image of Kansas City to the rest of the world, and could hurt business and tourism.
Supporters of the Paseo name bristle at the allegations of racism, saying they have respect for King and want the city to find a way to honour him.
They are opposed to the name change because they say the City Council did not follow city charter procedures when deciding on the name change and didn’t notify most residents on the street about the proposal.
They also say The Paseo was a historic name for the city’s first boulevard, which was completed in 1899.
The north end of the boulevard is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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