KANSAS CITY – After nearly a year of debate, Kansas City council members vote 8-4 to change the name of The Paseo Boulevard to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard. The heated discussion, held three days after a national holiday honoring Dr. King’s legacy, was conducted in front of a full chamber of local residents, the majority who were in favor of the change.
Council members Quinton Lucas, Scott Taylor, Jermaine Reed, Katherine Shields, and Lee Barnes Jr. rose to speak in support of the ordinance, citing that Kansas City should honor Dr. King with renaming one of the City’s grandest streets.
Councilman Dan Fowler, Councilwoman Alissia Canady, and Mayor Pro-Tem Scott Wagner all expressed they would not support the ordinance– all citing the same issue: community engagement.
“I would love to be supportive in honor of Dr. King. I have benefited tremendously… but the reality is, this action that we are taking is suppressing the voice of the African Americans who live on Paseo who do not support it. I believe it has been politically-motivated, I believe that Councilman Lucas has led this in a manner of which I believe has been politically-driven. I don’t think this is a responsible process,” said Alissia Canady, Councilwoman of the 5th District.
She said the majority of her constituents, who will be most affected by the name change, have voiced their opposition to the ordinance. She added that Councilman Lucas has been “grandstanding” in regards to this ordinance.
Scott Wagner mentioned the 42-acre Martin Luther King, Jr. Square, located at Swope Parkway and Woodland Avenue, which was dedicated on April 4, 1978. The site had formerly been known as “Brush Creek Park” and the name change was first proposed by Emanuel Cleaver in 1976. Jeremiah Cameron, who was on the Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners in mid to late 1970s, brought up the name change again in 1977 and the Board approved it in February 1978.
“There is nothing else in it that distinguishes it from any other green space in the city. As we talk about what is deserved for Dr. King, my answer is, you’ve had a park named since 1978 for him, and he deserves a lot more. There has been multiple requests for money, through PIAC (Public Improvements Advisory Committee), for that park, and every time, it has been denied. And yet today, we are saying he deserves better, he needs to have a Boulevard named for him. My question is, what will happen to the Boulevard in 40 years, because I’ve got 40 years of track record on a park with his name and it’s disgraceful,” he said.
The original ordinance, which would have changed the Paseo to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Paseo was amended and brought before council to change it to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The council passed this ordinance 8-4.
Now that this has been passed, the city will begin putting the name change into effect immediately. This will involve coordination with the United States Postal Officials to create a timeline for making changes to ensure correct mail delivery. Signs will be produced by the City of Kansas City’s Public Works Department in the sign shop; however some of the larger, illuminated signs will be special ordered. This will take 3-6 months to create and install the signs. A timeline will be developed providing specific advice and guidelines for residents and businesses.