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Kansas City Gets A Second Chance At Having A Street Named After Martin Luther King, Jr.

Kansas City began taking down Martin Luther King Boulevard signs and putting back up Paseo Boulevard signs earlier this year.
Michelle Tyrene Johnson
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City began taking down Martin Luther King Boulevard signs and putting back up Paseo Boulevard signs earlier this year.

With a renewed effort underway, Kansas City could soon rename a street in honor of the civil rights icon that showcases an area targeted for economic development.

The Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners is considering a proposal to create a “cultural corridor” by renaming a nearly five-mile stretch after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The city first honored King with a street named after him in early 2019, when the city council voted in favor of renaming Paseo Boulevard to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

But the decision was overturned in November 2019 by voters, many of whom cited concerns with preserving the history of the street, which runs through a Black neighborhood. Kansas City Mayor Lucas then tasked the board with finding another way to honor King.

The new plan, proposed by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, includes Blue Parkway, Swope Parkway, and Volker Drive thoroughfare, beginning at 55th Street.

“This compilation of thoroughfares represents a major quantity of miles spanning the city limits, which has always been an important factor,” said the Rev. Vernon Howard Jr., SCLC-GKC president.

Earlier this summer, Parks Board Commissioner Chris Goode proposed renaming J.C. Nichols Fountain and J.C. Nichols Parkway after King following weeks of protests against police brutality and racism that started near the fountain.

The proposal gained the support of many residents, but leaders from the SCLC-GKC said they were against the idea and wanted to find an area with a better connection to the city’s Black community.

“This artery assures direct exposure of the iconic Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd to black lives, more particularly black children, who suffer the most in our city from a lack of African-American cultural and historical landmarks and education that bolster their sense of value, esteem and worth,” said Howard.

Another reason that area of roads was chosen, Howard said, is that it falls within the Central City Economic Development Sales Tax boundary, an initiative to support economic development on the city’s east side.

The board is also planning on updating Martin Luther King Jr. Square Park, on Woodland Avenue and Swope Parkway, through funding from private donors. The fixture has been considered to be long-neglected by many in the community.

“We have a park named after Dr. King and it really is not representative of him. It isn't that we have a park named after him, but it was a parking lot, a tennis court, and that was about it,” said Terry Rynard, director of Kansas City’s Parks and Recreation.

The new plan would make improvements to the park and add what the board calls a “destination” playground.

As required by city code, two hearings will be held by the board within the next 30 days to hear the public’s input on the proposal. The meetings are planned to be in-person with social distancing measures in place.

Citizen comments will also be permitted for at least 30 days after the proposal is adopted. The Board of Commissioners can then consider a resolution to rename the roads.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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