Renaming the roadway sparked a tense battle among residents, local leaders and national politicians in a major city that will go back to having no streets named after the civil rights icon.
A majority of city council members voted in January to rename the boulevard, which runs through Kansas City’s predominantly black East Side, to honor King.
Save The Paseo, a grass-roots movement, formed in response to the city council’s waiver of a requirement that 75 percent of residents approve changing a street’s name. Objections centered largely on whether residents and businesses along The Paseo were given enough notice or didn’t want the street renamed, the Associated Press reported.
Organizers and supporters argued that the old street name held historical significance for Kansas City and that there were other ways to honor King’s legacy, they said.
The hotly debated boulevard is part of the city’s original plan, and the north side of the street is under the National Register of Historic Places, according to the Associated Press. The Paseo’s namesake derives from a street in Mexico City that loosely translates to “Reformation Walk,” the Kansas City Star reported.
The Paseo was the third option to honor King.
The Kansas City Parks and Recreation Board refused a suggestion to replace The Paseo signs with King’s name in 2018, according to KCUR, noting that streets were to be named after people who had made significant contributions to the city and that the 42-acre Martin Luther King Jr. Park has honored the civil rights leader since 1978.
In response, ministers of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King once led, started collecting signatures to place the question on August or November 2018 ballots, but it didn’t get enough votes, according to the Associated Press.
Then-Mayor Sylvester “Sly” James (D) formed a commission that allowed citizens to give their recommendations for King sites, and the group favored giving his name to a new terminal in the Kansas City International Airport. Airport officials weren’t in favor of the suggestion, either, according to the Associated Press.
Renaming 63rd Street, which cuts through very wealthy and very impoverished neighborhoods, was also an option, according to the Kansas City Star.
On Sunday, Save The Paseo staged a silent protest at a black church that was holding a rally for the street to remain named after King after allegations of racism from pro-King street residents surfaced, according to the Associated Press.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), who has been trying to get the street renamed in honor of King for years and who first proposed in 1976 that the park have King’s name, asked Save The Paseo protesters to sit down and to consider if their actions were appropriate for church, according to the Associated Press.
It was a chance for black church leaders to call Save The Paseo group members racist to their faces, one of its organizers told the Associated Press. Members in gray shirts with the green and white “Save The Paseo” logo that looks like street signs, appeared to be of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, though King Street supporters allege that the group is majority white, according to the Associated Press.
Kansas City is nearly 60 percent white and 29 percent black, according to census data.
There are more than 900 streets named after King in the United States with most of them being concentrated in Southern states. Living on a street with King’s name means one is more likely to be black, poor or both, researchers have found.
Street-naming shows where the country stands on issues of race relations because street names connect visual facts with emotions, according to researchers at the University of Tennessee who studied Martin Luther King Jr. street naming and the politics of belonging.
“For the African American activist, place naming can be an emotion-laden and politically charged spatial tool for redefining the scale at which they belong in the American city and the right to stake a claim to urban space,” they wrote.