A half-century after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Kansas City is poised to belatedly but appropriately honor the civil rights activist.
Whether it was simply an oversight, the result of indifference or a sign of outright bigotry, the lack of a proper public marker here has gone unaddressed for far too long.
On Sunday, an advisory committee appointed by Mayor Sly James moved the city closer to correcting this wrong, voting to recommend two choices for consideration: naming the planned $1 billion airport for King or renaming 63rd Street for the late civil rights leader.
Neither option was part of the initial conversation about how to honor King, but committee members came to this process with open minds and sought input from a broad swath of Kansas City. To his credit, the mayor’s decision to task the group with studying this issue opened the discussion to the entire community.
The idea to rename Kansas City International Airport for King quickly gained traction, including among young people who were tapped by the advisory group for their input last week. Many residents embraced this proposal, viewing it as a bold idea and a way to send an important message by paying tribute to King at the city’s front door.
While the KCI option emerged as the committee’s top choice Sunday, renaming 63rd Street also had strong support among those who want to select a route cutting east to west to show respect for King’s vision of harmony among people of different races and economic levels. A number of streets, including Linwood Boulevard and 12th Street, also were discussed as possibilities.
A group of African-American ministers and political leaders jump-started this conversation back in March with a call to recast The Paseo as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The clergy, many of them members of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (a group King helped found), studied the issue for months before settling on The Paseo.
The ministers did not want to repeat the mistakes made in other cities, where so many of the streets named for King are situated in blighted and racially isolated neighborhoods. Rather, they sought to build upon the historic ties The Paseo has to the black community with the aim of spurring additional economic development.
Their idea had merit and support from the advisory group. While it didn’t make the committee’s final cut, the dedication and passion of these political and religious leaders moved Kansas City forward to this moment.
A wide range of voices are reflected in the two recommendations. Suggestions were heard and carefully considered during four public hearings, and comments were solicited online.
In the end, the committee made a strong statement with its embrace of a creative idea that goes beyond changing out a few street signs.
But the proposal to rename the new airport for King comes with some complications and potential roadblocks. King family members will need to be a part of the discussion, and their support for this proposal is essential.
And as negotiations about how to meet minority participation goals for the construction of a new terminal continue, it remains to be seen if the airport project will actually be an example of economic inclusion. The minority participation goals for airport construction must be ambitious, and those questions must be resolved quickly.
Whichever choice becomes a reality — renaming our airport, rededicating a street or possibly both — Kansas City is finally doing the right thing by making a commitment to pay tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.