A thought, as the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington nears: Why not rename Troost Avenue for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
By CHARLES E. COULTER
Special to The Star
On a recent road trip with family members to the South, I was struck by the number of communities that had dedicated streets, boulevards and avenues to Dr. King. I was again reminded how Kansas City had failed to step up.
Tulsa, Okla., the city where I was born and grew up, renamed North Cincinnati Avenue last fall in honor of Dr. King. This was no small feat: The name change affected more than 50 blocks of residences and businesses.
Advocates of the idea in Tulsa say the change will spur development in an economically depressed area. That might be a specious argument.
But more valuable reasons exist for adding a Martin Luther King Boulevard to Kansas Citys landscape. If done right, it would again demonstrate this citys desire to move past its segregated past and break down old barriers. If done right, it could be a powerful symbolic gesture.
But why Troost? Why not the length of 23rd Street, or all of 31st Street, or 12th Street (City Hall could share the costs and benefits that way)? To that, all I can say is why not Troost?
Changing Troosts name for its entire length south of the river from Garrison Square at Fourth Street to Bannister Road would have its costs and inconveniences. The city would lose a symbolic connection to its past. But in honesty, how many people in Kansas City can say which Troost the street was named? (Answer: Dr. Benoist Troost migrated to the area in the 1840s and became one of the citys founders.)
The advantages to the city would vastly outweigh the few disadvantages.
For the last 50-plus years, Troost has been the symbol of urban decay in Kansas City, its name a shorthand notation for crime and poverty.
And for even a longer period of time, Troost has been a symbol of racial division, the line between black and white, bad and good.
Numerous efforts have been made in the last decade or so to change the perceptions of Troost, and progress is being made. I understand the impulse to want to turn Troost around. But might progress along one of Kansas Citys major north-south thoroughfares have a better chance if the street were named for a champion of peace, justice and racial harmony?
Charles E. Coulter of Kansas City is a former Opinion Page editor of The Star and has delivered the Martin Luther King Day addresses at the Kansas City Art Institute and St. Therese Little Flower Catholic Church since the mid-1990s. He is the author of Take Up the Black Mans Burden: Kansas Citys African-American Communities 1865-1939.