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Will Troost Avenue ever become 'Truth'? Kansas City lawmakers criticized for name change delays

Daytime photo of traffic moving along a four-lane street lined with trees. In foreground is a green street sign with white lettering that reads "Troost Ave."
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Traffic moves along Troost Avenue near 48th Street on March 27, 2024.

Business owners have campaigned for nearly two years to sever Troost Avenue from its slaveholding past. But the effort has hit a bureaucratic roadblock, as Mayor Quinton Lucas tries to avoid another public controversy like the failed renaming of The Paseo.

A plan to rename Kansas City’s Troost Avenue is now stuck in legislative limbo, frustrating organizers and business owners who have spent years campaigning to break from the street’s racist legacy.

Concerned about the kind of backlash that derailed the city’s previous renaming efforts, Mayor Quinton Lucas pushed through a last-minute alteration that resulted in the ordinance being pulled from the City Council agenda indefinitely.

The Troost name change is now taking a backseat to an attempted overhaul of city processes, adding even more bureaucratic delays with no clear endpoint.

“It's actually more a slap in the face because it's trying to overlay and try to put a Band-Aid on a decades-long issue that multiple people have tried to change and repeal and that people have now said ‘yes’ to,” said Chris Goode, owner and founder of Ruby Jean’s Juicery on Troost.

‘A very painful truth’

Goode has been spearheading the Troost renaming campaign since 2022, alongside Third District councilmember Melissa Robinson.

“What we’re trying to repeal here is evil,” he said. “We’re trying to change something that has been this long standing celebration of hatred by honoring this person’s name.”

Troost Avenue carries the name of Benoist Troost, a Dutch settler who came to Kansas City in the mid-19th century and who enslaved six people. According to the Missouri Valley Special Collections, Troost was the first resident physician in town and one of Kansas City’s trustees when it was incorporated in 1850.

061920_PrayTroost1.jpg_carlos moreno
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
In 2020, hundreds of Kansas Citians on spanned portions of Troost Avenue in solidarity against racial injustice. Organizers chose Troost because it is known as Kansas City's racial dividing line.

Troost owned an estate in the southeast part of the city. But the area around present-day Troost Avenue was part of the Porter Plantation, which itself enslaved between 40 to 100 people.

Later, the street became primed for wealthy residential developments known as “Millionaire’s Row” before an economic downturn crashed housing prices. In the early 20th century, zoning ordinances and redlining policies made the avenue a de facto point of racial segregation.

Troost’s connection to slavery was thrust into the spotlight by Kansas City’s racial justice protests, following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

In June 2020, the Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation stripped the name of J.C. Nichols from the fountain and street at Mill Creek Park. One of Kansas City’s most influential real estate developers, Nichols designed racist covenants that prevented Black, Jew and other minority homeowners from living in affluent neighborhoods.

Both Mill Creek Parkway and Mill Creek Park neighbor the Country Club Plaza, which was the crown jewel of Nichols’ empire.

Goode, who at the time was a parks board member, led the charge on the Nichols renaming effort.

“The history of Kansas City developer Jesse Clyde Nichols requires very little education for this group,” Goode wrote in a letter to his fellow commissioners. “His accumulation of wealth in part by the creation of some of our city's most treasured real estate, including the Country Club Plaza, serve as a very painful truth in our city’s history.”

A few months later, Kansas City Council passed a resolution to research removing memorials and change city-owned property named after individuals who enslaved people or promoted racism.

The long march toward Truth Avenue

Kansas City Parks and Recreation Commission Member Chris Goode talks Saturday in front of the large MLK sign that adorns the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park at the corner of Woodland Avenue and MLK, Jr. Boulevard.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Chris Goode speaks at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in August 2021.

Goode officially launched his campaign to rename Troost in 2022, on Juneteenth. In a petition on Change.org, Goode declared that the “very name of the street itself” does not “represent the current state of this avenue or the trajectory of our beloved city.”

His suggestion for a new name? Truth Avenue. The petition has since gathered more than 1,700 signatures.

“For me, it was also that there’s a long history associated with Troost, in terms of it being a dividing line between poverty and prosperity and race,” said Mary Esselman, CEO of Operation Breakthrough on Troost. “And I like the idea of being true to values as a community and values [being] that we value every individual regardless of race or zip code.”

To gather feedback, Robinson and Goode held listening sessions online and in person with residents and property owners in the area. At Ruby Jean’s Juicery, Goode installed a mural on the side of the building declaring “Truth is Freedom.”

Elaina Paige Thomas, the founder and owner of The Next Paige talent agency on Troost, was one of the businesses that backed Goode’s petition.

“I think my clients would probably appreciate the name change to something that arises with more positivity, something that arises with some unity,” she said. “We do cater to all communities so I think there's unity and power in that – and I don’t want anything to stop that.”

A yellow brick wall on the outside of a building reads in white letters "Truth is Freedom."
Carlos Moreno
A mural on the south side of Ruby Jean's Juicery, owned by Chris Goode, on June 12, 2023.

But not everyone was on board.

“I think we need for the next generation to know exactly what the history in Kansas City is, even if it’s a street name,” longtime Beacon Hill resident Dee Evans told KCUR’s Up To Date.

In May 2023, City Council took up the issue of renaming the avenue.

The city sent out more than 4,000 postcards to survey residents near Troost. Of the 1,027 responses they received, 80% were aware of the renaming efforts, about 72% agreed that Kansas City streets should not be named after known slave owners, and 56% felt that Troost should be renamed.

Nearby, the student senate at the University of Missouri-Kansas City — which borders Troost Avenue — unanimously passed a resolution in support of the name change.

‘Kick the can down the road’

This February, Robinson officially introduced an ordinance in Kansas City Council that would change the name of Troost Avenue to “Truth Avenue.”

It would also dedicate $50,000 toward the effort, covering the costs of changing street signs.

Daytime photo of traffic moving along a four-lane street lined with trees and leading up a hill.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Traffic moves along Troost Avenue near 43rd Street on March 26, 2024.

Normally, Kansas City Council ordinances are first debated and workshopped in smaller committees before moving to the full, 13-person council for final approval.

Although no lawmakers have appeared to outwardly oppose the name change, Robinson’s ordinance has taken a convoluted path through council.

“We’re asking for progress, we're not asking to kick the can down the road for another decade,” Goode told Lucas in February. “What is the hold up? All of the hard work has been done.”

While the Troost proposal won the recommendation of Kansas City’s street naming committee, it hit another snag in the legal review subcommittee last month.

There, Lucas proposed a significant change to the ordinance: Rather than making the immediate switch to “Truth,” Troost would spend four years in an “honorary naming period.” The new name of "Truth Avenue" would not become permanent until April 1, 2028.

Goode said an honorary naming period was never mentioned in the city’s earlier recommendations, nor was it discussed in their listening sessions.

“It's almost a complete separation from this almost two-year-long effort that has been really really heard by the public, “ he said. “It changes the entire scope.”

Lucas declined KCUR's request for an interview. According to a statement provided by his office, Lucas wanted to give businesses and residents on Troost enough time to change addresses and official documents.

Speaking in the March subcommittee meeting, Lucas referenced the failed renaming of The Paseo in 2019.

“A lot of people said, ‘I can support it, but I want to make sure the transition phase is one that gives us an opportunity to adjust to be aligned with it all’ – and I'm sympathetic to that,” Lucas said.

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 in 2019 renamed Paseo Boulevard to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, but voters undid the change a few months later.

Then a council member, Lucas himself sponsored the ordinance to rename the city’s longest boulevard for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

But lawmakers side-stepped a requirement to survey residents about the change, causing an outcry from Black residents who said their opinions were ignored.

Just a few months after City Council approved the change, voters overwhelmingly chose to revert back to the old name — requiring the removal of street signs and making national headlines.

Lucas’ new, time-delayed version of the Troost ordinance passed out of committee, 2-1. Councilmember Andrea Bough sided with the mayor, while Robinson voted against it.

Robinson said she sees several major differences between the Troost and Paseo changes. “One, people didn't know about it, and people didn't get a chance to weigh in on it, who were most impacted by the change — that's not the case here,” she said. “Number two, ‘Paseo’ means pathway. That’s what The Paseo means to our community.”

Goode said the Troost campaign has not seen the same level of pushback.

“There’s been two years of public awareness,” he said. “If the city was opposed to this, there would have been an organized effort against it, and there hasn’t been. There’s been an unprecedented amount of support for it.”

Organizers worry that, if the Troost change is paused for another four years, future city lawmakers will not follow through. Both Lucas and Robinson will have reached their term limits by then.

The two-part process could also be more costly, since new street signs might be needed for each stage.

“I am reminded of the Civil Rights quote that says that ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’” Robinson said.

A Troost mural by JT Daniels.
Tommy Felts
Startland News
A Troost mural by JT Daniels. Troost Avenue is named after Kansas City's first resident physician, who enslaved six men and women.

Where the movement goes from here

Rather than moving forward with the four-year delay, Robinson held the approved ordinance off the docket for the full Kansas City Council.

Without that final step, Troost will remain Troost for the foreseeable future.

Instead, Robinson introduced a different ordinance on March 28 that would outline a new blueprint for the city to rename streets. That ordinance is now waiting to be discussed in the Neighborhood Planning and Development Committee.

Robinson said she plans to reintroduce the Troost ordinance at a later date, with the original timeline restored.

“Hopefully, we will be able to take up the business of renaming monuments, memorials, streets that were named after known slaveholders, known individuals who were oppressors and those who practice hatred — I am more motivated than ever to see that to its end,” Robinson said.

For business owner Elaina Paige Thomas, fixing this historical injustice is worth the wait.

“Change makes people uncomfortable, not that that’s a good or bad thing,” she said. “But in growing a business, I think it's important on one hand to stand up for what’s right, and then on the second hand to work together as a community — as a unity — to come up with a solution on how the change needs to take place.”

Isabella is the spring 2024 intern for KCUR News. An Iowa native, she recently graduated from the University of Georgia, where she studied anthropology and environmental design and was part of the UGA Asian American Journalists Association. Email her at luui@kcur.org
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