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Kansas City Airport May Be Renamed After Martin Luther King Jr.

Joe Carson
Courtesy of Bob Hughes Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. with business leaders in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1968. A committee has recommended honoring King by renaming the new airport terminal.

Updated 5:45 p.m., Friday: After weeks of discussing which street to name after Martin Luther King Jr., an advisory group is recommending not renaming a street at all — but the Kansas City International Airport.

Mayor Sly James clarified at a press conference Monday, if the idea is approved by City Council, the new single-terminal would be renamed, not the entire Kansas City International Airport. But, he said that doesn’t make the proposed gesture any less significant.

“To put his name on something … To show that, on the biggest, most expensive building that we’ve ever built, to say, ‘Welcome to Kansas City’ … I can’t think of anything bigger,” James said.

Just over a month ago, James appointed the committee to gather public input and make an official recommendation on what revealed itself as a "surprisingly controversial" issue in Kansas City, according to committee co-chair Donna Simon, pastor at St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church.

Each committee member was allowed two choices, the first tallied as two points, the second as one point. With seven committee members selecting the airport terminal as their top choice, and one as their second choice, the airport terminal was the winner.

With 63rd Street and Paseo Boulevard nearly tied 8 to 7, Simon advised the group to hold a second vote, so they could submit a second choice to the mayor. Renaming 63rd Street took a clear lead in round two, getting six of nine votes.

Last Wednesday, a few of the committee members met with high school students from Generation Rap, a group of students who host and produce a weekly radio show on Hot 103 Jamz at KPRS. Committee member Eric Wesson, who mentors the students, said they latched onto the "bold" idea of naming the airport terminal after King, but they also liked the idea of renaming 63rd Street.

"They felt it brought people together, because it crosses racial boundaries," Wesson said. "They hope [whatever it is] that it will reduce violence and segregation."

Roger Williams, the group's co-chair and an employee of the Hickman Mills School District, said he sees this as an opportunity for both recommendations.

"It doesn't have to stop here," Williams said. "We don't just have to have one symbol. I think it makes a great statement that the airport is named, but if we decide to do 63rd Street later, I would have no objection to that."

Committee member Wesley Fields, chairman of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said the outcome of this will not impact the SCLC's petition to rename Paseo Boulevard in honor of King — a movement they started after Kansas City Parks and Recreation expressed opposition to the idea. After missing the deadline for the August ballot, they are still aiming to get the issue on November’s ballot.

The mayor’s staff will weigh both recommendations and determine what steps each choice would require. James said he also plans to reach out to King’s family to find out how they feel about the gesture. He expects to present his findings to City Council in a few weeks.

Correction: Roger Williams' employment information was wrong in an earlier version of this story. It has since been corrected.

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @_tudhope.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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