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Kansas City Residents Voice Support For Renaming J.C. Nichols Parkway, Fountain at First Public Meeting

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Noah Taborda
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KCUR 89.3
Brandon Henderson said renaming J.C. Nichols Parkway and fountain would help start a larger conversation (left). A man who identified himself as X from Black Rainbow echoed that sentiment, saying any number of names would be better suited to these sites (right).

J.C. Nichols' role in accelerating redlining and sowing the seeds of racial inequalities in Kansas City has re-ignited a long-standing conversation over the removal of his name from Plaza landmarks.

Kansas City residents gathered to voice their opinion on the proposition to rename both J.C. Nichols Fountain and Parkway Thursday night, with a majority of attendees expressing support for the action.

The conversation over the naming of these landmarks and Nichols’ role in Kansas City’s history of racial injustices has been ongoing for some years, but amid ongoing protests and increased demand from social justice groups, the Parks and Recreation department called for two public comment sessions for immediate action.

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Chris Goode opened the meeting by voicing his support for renaming.

“This is not a solution. It’s merely a starting point for the conversation of equity and removing these things that aim to keep us much more than six feet apart,” Goode said.

In a letter to colleagues earlier this month, Goode recommended renaming J.C. Nichols Parkway for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and calling the fountain the Dream Fountain.

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Many of those who spoke said renaming such a visible part of Kansas City, like the fountain, would help the healing process.

Resident Wanda Taylor voiced her support for both of these options, saying this action is long overdue.

“I’d love to see it renamed the Dream Fountain because we say in America that the American dream is home ownership. He kept people like me outside of home ownership,” Taylor said. “So let’s allow young black people to dream.”

Others suggested memorializing important black men in the city’s history of racial injustice, like Levi Harrington, a black man who was lynched for a crime he did not commit in 1882, or Ryan Stokes, who was unarmed when he was shot and killed by a Kansas City police officer in 2013.

Others said a neutral name like Mill Creek Fountain and Parkway would ease tensions and satisfy the renaming goal.

Of the 40 or so who chose to speak at the session, only a small handful voiced opposition toward renaming.

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Noah Taborda
Parks and Recreation President Jack Holland said he was impressed with the thoughtfulness of the comments and the turnout. The first meeting required two floors of overflow seating to accommodate all who attended.

Those who did oppose the proposed action cited a variety of reasons. One attendee said Nichols' impact on building the Plaza was an important part of Kansas City’s history and renaming these locations would erase history.

Others said changing the name would only create more division within the city, pointing to the renaming and subsequent reversal from the Paseo Blvd. to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

UMKC Student Government Association's President Brandon Henderson said those citing historical erasure are off base.

“I don’t know about what school they went to, but I learned about history from books, not fountains and street names.”

At the conclusion of the public comments, Jack Holland, President of Kansas City Parks and Recreation said a decision would be reached within 30 days.

The second public comment session will be held virtually at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 24.

Noah Taborda is a news intern for KCUR. Reach out to him on twitter @NoahTaborda

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