Will it remain? Ceremonial street sign installed for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Just when it appeared that Kansas City had finally ended a protracted battle over renaming a street or landmark for Martin Luther King Jr., a new effort to thwart the plan to rechristen The Paseo has emerged.
Some property and business owners on The Paseo have started a petition initiative to squash plans to rename the street for the civil rights leader. And after months of missteps and squabbling, what appeared to finally be a done deal could unravel all over again.
Renaming The Paseo in honor of King remains the best option among those that have been considered. The nearly 10-mile-long road runs through the heart of the city’s predominantly African-American East Side.
But the ceremonial street sign that went up last week at 34th Street and The Paseo to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. should be the last signage erected until the petition initiative opposing the change has been decided one way or the other.
And city officials should provide residents with guidance about whether to change their addresses while this tangled mess is sorted out. For now, limiting confusion and unnecessary expense should be the goal.
Bryon Johnmeyer is part of a group that believes the City Council improperly ignored an ordinance requiring approval from 75 percent of property owners on the street to make the change. The group’s petition is under review at the city attorney’s office, which has 30 days to pass it along to the city clerk’s office for approval.
The goal is to gather enough signatures through petition to force a vote on the name change among property owners on The Paseo.
“Let the people speak,” Johnmeyer told The Star.
The process to finally pay homage to the slain civil rights leader has been a slow-rolling disaster from the start.
Last year, the Board of Parks and Recreation, which oversees the city’s boulevards, rebuffed an attempt to rename The Paseo for King.
Kansas City was one of the nation’s largest municipalities without a street or major building bearing King’s name until the City Council approved the change in January. The council waived the property owners’ approval requirement.
Approving the measure was a long-awaited and laudable move. The street was one of three options presented to the council by a citizens committee formed by Mayor Sly James. That community-wide conversation informed the council’s decision, which ultimately favored the best of three imperfect choices.
The change was inevitably going to cause friction, regardless of which street was chosen. Council Member Alissia Canady has repeatedly said constituents she spoke with opposed stripping The Paseo of its name.
“You can’t honor Dr. King by disenfranchising black voters that live on the street,” she said.
Process matters, and this one was flawed. But honoring King 51 years after his death is long overdue. And the prospect of undoing this decision to pay respect to King would be yet another embarrassment for Kansas City.
Renaming The Paseo to honor King is “the right thing, a good thing and the best thing,” said Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City.
Howard and a group of East Side ministers and community leaders spent years advocating for The Paseo name change.
“Anyone attempting to vote to take honor from a man that died for their right to vote is a betrayal not only of Dr. King but the community that fought so hard to make this happen,” he said.