After three years of debate and conversations about the best way to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Kansas City, the Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to rename the stretch of roads along Brush Creek to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“This renaming does not simply honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, it also honors the many Kansas Citians who were involved in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and the 1960s,” said Jack Holland, KC Parks board president. “It took a great deal of courage to be a part of that and we are all grateful for all of those Kansas Citians efforts.”
The street signs will appear on the five-mile stretch, that now is called Volker Boulevard, Swope Parkway and Blue Parkway, in the next couple of weeks.
In 2019, city council voted to rename The Paseo to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, but there was a great deal of debate over the change as the signs went up, with residents upset by their lack of involvement in the renaming decision. In response, a petition drive was mounted to bring the renaming to a vote and nearly 70% of Kansas City voters, overturned the renaming. The vote to rescind the naming of The Paseo to Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. drew national attention
Mayor Quinton Lucas directed the KC Board of Parks and Recreation to gather ideas from the public on how to appropriately honor Dr. King in Kansas City. Through a series of community forums, the board heard from hundreds of community members.
“What we’re largely seeing this time, is a process done right,” said Lucas.
At a press conference following the street renaming approval, many of the board members expressed how hopeful they were that the renaming could — in the example of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevards across the country — signify unity.
“Fifty-three years ago, Dr. King was slain and we still are seeing Black men slain in a very similar manner,” said Chris Goode, KC Parks board commissioner. “This isn’t just another street name. This isn’t just a green piece of material that will adorn our boulevard. This is a moment for us to come alongside of each other. A moment for us to bridge the divide that has long existed in this city between White people and Black people.”
Holland said the board is committed to the beautification of the route. “We are hopeful it lives up to the honor that it gives today and confident it will,” he said.
“This is a celebration and this is a story that’s not just about one boulevard,” Lucas said, “it’s about Kansas City keeping up its commitment.”