Seventy percent of Kansas City voters on Tuesday came out in favor of changing the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. back to The Paseo. The renaming has been a contentious issue in the community.
About 100 supporters of keeping the King name for the 10-mile 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.
There’s just one problem with the racist narrative. Most of those opposing the ditching of The Paseo are African-Americans.
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 honor 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 an 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.
The City Council voted in January to rename the boulevard for King, responding to a years-long effort from the city’s Democrat black leaders and pressure from the local chapter of the controversial Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organization that King helped start.
Democrat U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a minister and former Kansas City mayor who has pushed the city to rename a street for King for years, was at Sunday’s rally. He said the protesters were welcome, but he asked them to consider the damage that would be done if Kansas City removed King’s name.
“I am standing here simply begging you to sit down,” Cleaver told the group. “This is not appropriate in a church of Jesus Christ.”
–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice