Editorials

KC emphatically rejected Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. So, now what?

The Kansas City boulevard named for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will once again be called The Paseo.

Kansas City’s voters made that decision Tuesday. We wanted to keep King’s name on the street, but the verdict at the polls was overwhelming and clear.

Now what?

Quiet reflection is a good first step. The campaign for and against the King name became aggressive in its final days, which was unfortunate. Both sides should take some time now to let tempers cool, while seeking additional clarity about the message voters intended to send.

Most Kansas Citians have not rejected King. Even supporters of Save the Paseo, the group that lobbied against the King name, agreed the city should do something significant and permanent to remember the civil rights leader. That goal shouldn’t change.

After a cooling-off period, Mayor Quinton Lucas should lead an effort to re-examine the issue. In a meeting Wednesday with The Star Editorial Board, Lucas, who supported the name change, said he and others might have been more proactive in discussing the need to honor King and seeking input from the community.

“To the extent that the ministers didn’t engage with the public, there is a place for those of us in elected office to do so,” he said. “We did not. I think that was a mistake.”

But honoring King’s memory can’t just hinge on a better campaign or improved public relations. A deeper, complicated conversation about how Kansas City can move forward is needed.

That may mean renaming a street. Several options have been offered, and the city will want to consider them.

But renaming a boulevard or an avenue may not be the only option, or the best. The community should be invited to propose new alternatives. It’s possible that some neighborhoods will step forward to ask for King’s name on a street or nearby public land.

On Wednesday, Lucas suggested enhancements to the existing Martin Luther King Jr. city park. That, too, is a possibility.

Whatever the choices, Lucas and his City Council colleagues must do a much better job of reaching out to affected homeowners and businesses before any future name changes are approved. In some cases, the city might consider providing financial assistance for those affected.

The debate over King’s name on The Paseo was too long and too disruptive. The East Side ministers and activists who first proposed the change were insensitive to the needs of residents, tarnishing the effort from the beginning.

They should now step back and let the people of Kansas City figure it out. While it might take some time, an inclusive process will help the city avoid a continuation of this sad chapter in its political life.

Taking down more than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard signs that were hung just nine months ago will send an unfortunate message. And Kansas City can’t afford to repeat these same mistakes with another misfire.

Like most urban areas, Kansas City hasn’t solved the problems of discrimination and racism. Renaming The Paseo for Martin Luther King Jr. would not have solved those problems, but it would have been the start of an important healing period.

Kansas Citians must make sure that we have a chance to make progress on that front, even in the wake of Tuesday’s outcome at the polls. They can do that by taking a thoughtful approach to identifying a positive alternative to honor King in Kansas City.

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