Kansas City residents speak out against changing street names to honor MLK

Emma Hilboldt

Kansas City residents have once again pushed back against efforts to rename streets in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Civil rights advocates, including the Southern Christian Leadership Council-Greater Kansas City (SCLC-GKC), first attempted to rename Paseo Boulevard to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in early 2019, a resolution that was eventually passed by the city council. However, there was backlash from many residents immediately following the decision, who argued that they wanted to preserve the history that Paseo Boulevard held on its own. 

Following public outcry, the decision was overturned in Nov. 2019 and city council members scrambled to come up with another way to feature Dr. King in the city. The council eventually landed on a new proposal from SCLC-GKC that involved renaming stretches of Volker Boulevard, Swope Parkway and Blue Parkway. 

The Kansas City Department of Parks and Recreation held two public hearings the week of Sept. 17 where members of the public could voice their concerns about the proposal. The meetings were filled with conflicting opinions from various residents, but the majority of attendees expressed that renaming a street was not the solution. 

Kayla Lee, a student at UMKC, supported the change. “I think we should name these streets to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Lee said. “The history of the other streets can still be preserved.” 

Proponents of the change expressed disappointment that it had taken so long to do something about honoring Dr. King and felt exhausted by the lengthy decision making process. 

Teresa Rynard, director of the parks department, discussed the difficulty of finding the solution in an interview with The KC Star. 

“It’s really important that this not be seen as ‘let’s just name a street and we’re done,’” Rynard said. “When we finally agree on an honor, let’s use this as a starting point of how to heal and deal not just with the past but with present concerns involving Black Lives Matter and racial injustice that we’re confronting.”

Some have pointed to a simpler solution of revamping Martin Luther King Jr. Square Park, located just off of Swope Parkway. The park has lacked significant maintenance for some time, with overgrown grass and weeds filling the majority of the space. 

Residents may not need to wait very long for the park to receive renovations, though. The parks department, in collaboration with the 15 and the Mahomies Foundation (established by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes), recently announced a partnership to build a new playground in the park that would cost an estimated $1 million.

“We hope that this project brings this community together in a positive and engaging way for years to come,” Mahomes said in a statement.

The parks department will continue to hold public meetings to gather residents’ input. The board has not committed to any firm timetable regarding a decision.

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