Kansas City votes to remove Martin Luther King’s name from historic boulevard

The street name will be changed Credit: Charlie Riedel/AP

Martin Luther King’s name will be removed from one of Kansas City’s historic boulevards, less than a year after the city council renamed it after the civil rights icon.

The 10-mile boulevard on the city’s mostly black east side as been the subject of fierce debate since the authority opted for the name change in January.

Civil rights leaders who pushed for the change celebrated when the street signs went up, believing they had finally won a decades-long battle to honour Mr King.

The move appeared to end Kansas City’s reputation as one of the largest US cities in the country without a street named after him.

But a group of residents intent on keeping The Paseo name began collecting petitions to put the name change to a vote and achieved that goal in April.

The campaign has been divisive, with supporters of Mr King’s name accusing opponents of being racist, while supporters of The Paseo name say city leaders pushed the name change through without following proper procedures and ignored The Paseo’s historic value.

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

The Reverend Vernon Howard, president of the Kansas City chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said the King street sign is a powerful symbol for everyone but particularly for black children.

“I think that only if you are a black child growing up in the inner city lacking the kind of resources, lacking the kinds of images and models for mentoring, modelling, vocation and career, can you actually understand what that name on that sign can mean to a child in this community,” he said.

If the sign were taken down, “the reverse will be true,” he added.

“What people will wonder in their minds and hearts is why and how something so good, uplifting and edifying, how can something like that be taken away?”

But Diane Euston, a leader of the Save the Paseo group, said that The Paseo “doesn’t just mean something to one community in Kansas City”.

“It means something to everyone in Kansas City,” she said.

“It holds kind of a special place in so many people’s hearts and memories. It’s not just historical on paper, it’s historical in people’s memory. It’s very important to Kansas City.”