Kansas City voters approve plan to remove Martin Luther King's name from street

Voters in Kansas City on Tuesday decided overwhelmingly to remove Martin Luther King Jr.’s name from one of the city’s historic boulevards.

The decisive vote comes less than a year after the City Council had voted to change the street's name to honor the civil rights leader.

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The Associated Press reports unofficial results from Election Day found the proposal to remove King’s name garnered nearly 70 percent of the vote, compared to just more than 30 percent of voters wanting to keep his name on the boulevard.

The proposal made its way onto the ballot after several Kansas City residents pushed to restore the street’s original name, The Paseo. The residents collected 2,857 signatures in April to put the measure before voters, well surpassing the 1,700 needed.

Supporters of the proposal say the City Council pushed for changing the street’s name without following proper procedures and ignored The Paseo’s historic value in the process.

Supporters of renaming the street after King had accused opponents of the name change of being racist, the AP noted, setting up Tuesday's showdown at the polls.

The 10-mile stretch of the boulevard runs north to south through a largely black area of the city.

Tensions over the proposal reached a boiling point Sunday when the Save the Paseo group staged a silent protest at a get-out-the-vote rally at a black church for people wanting to keep the King name.

The group walked into the Paseo Baptist Church and stood along the two aisles.

Tim Smith, who organized the protest, told the AP the protest was intended to force the black Christian leaders who had mischaracterized the Save the Paseo group as racist to “say it to our faces.”

“If tonight, someone wants to characterize what we did as hostile, violent, or uncivil, it’s a mischaracterization of what happened,” Smith said. “We didn’t say anything, we didn’t do anything, we just stood.”

The Rev. Vernon Howard, president of the Kansas City chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, told the AP that the King street sign is a powerful symbol for the community, particularly for black children.

“I think that only if you are a black child growing up in the inner city lacking the kind of resources, lacking the kinds of images and models for mentoring, modeling, vocation and career, can you actually understand what that name on that sign can mean to a child in this community,” he said.