Question No. 1 on the Kansas City, Mo., ballot – to return the name of Marting Luther King Jr. Blvd. back to The Paseo – passed 3-to-1, but how did the city’s African-American community vote on the issue?
Above the surface, and sometimes bubbling just below, the ballot question to return the name of Kansas City’s historic boulevard back to The Paseo was positioned as an issue of Black and White. That was not an unrealistic way to look at an issue that cityies across the nation have similarly had to confront.
True, nationally, there is a great deal of respect for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his contributions to our nation, but that doesn’t always support a desire to live on MLK Blvd. So it also wasn’t surprising when post election, bloggers, national news media and Black Twitter assumed the Kansas City vote was “that same old thing.”
Did White Kansas City overwhelming vote against the MLK Blvd name change and disproportionately tip the vote against MLK Blvd? That’s what a lot of people projected might happen. However, the question that really mattered to The Community Voice is how did Kansas City’s African-American community really feel about the issue? That’s the question we set out to answer. Did Kansas City’s Black community actually favor preserving local Kansas City history – much of it Black – over honoring a national African-American hero that certainly they love, appreciate and respect?
So, we went to the Kansas City Election Board and dug into the results. On the surface, it was evident: Those who voted preferred the name The Paseo 3-to-1. But how did Kansas City’s Black community vote?
Obviously the Election Board doesn’t keep racial data, so we took the most obvious approach we could think of: Find out the results from Kansas City’s historically Black areas.
All Kansas City voters are assigned to a ward and a precinct. Wards 2, 3, and 7 closely align with the areas often referred to as the Old Northeast, East and Brush Creek South areas, respectively. Each Ward has 18 precincts, but since several precincts vote at each polling site, we were only able to disaggregate the vote on Question No. 1 down to the 19 voting sites located within the three wards.
Here’s what we found. In 17 of the 19 polling locations, Question No. 1 — to return the name of Martin Luther King Blvd back to The Paseo — passed. In one of the districts, the vote was a tie and in only one of the voting sites did the question fail.
Certainly each of those who voted had their own particularly reason for how they voted. While some may have wanted to preserve the historic name “The Paseo” and others may have voted in protest to the process used to approve the change, what we feel comfortable in concluding is that of those who voted from the city’s core Black community, their vote was in support of maintaining “The Paseo.”
What also speaks volume to us is the very low voter turnout on this issue. Why was voter turnout just 16% on this issue? It makes us just want to scratch our head, but certainly the reasons must be many. What we hope wasn’t on their list are a total frustration with the system, or a total lack of apathy, or a feeling that “it doesn’t matter how I vote,” especially since we have an important 2020 election year around the corner.
Next Steps: Finding a Way to Honor Martin Luther King Jr. in Kansas City
Now that the citizens of Kansas City have rejected naming The Paseo in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the city is looking for input from the public on how best to honor Dr. King in Kansas City.
“While many people of good heart believed renaming The Paseo Blvd. was a fitting honor, many others of good heart felt that other approaches were more appropriate,” said Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas in a news release. “What we heard more clearly from the election, however, was that most voters were frustrated by the process used to craft the original name change.”
Lucas has directed the Parks and Recreation Board of Commissioners to gather public input on how to honor King’s legacy moving forward. Residents will have the chance to submit their ideas during a 90-day public comment period.
After the 90-day public comment period, the parks board will hold a series of public meetings to evaluate ideas.
Anyone with suggestions should email them to MLKTribute@kcmo.org or by mail to: Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners, c/o MLK Tribute, 4600 E. 63rd St., Kansas City, MO 64130.