Martin King King, Jr. was assassinated over 50 years ago on April 4, 1968, but it wasn’t until January 24, 2019 that Kansas City, Missouri, honored the iconic civil rights leader when its city council voted to change the name of its historic thoroughfare from The Paseo Boulevard to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. But less than a year later, the city is now threatening to remove the sign and revert back to the original name, depending on the results of a vote scheduled for today (October 5), the Associated Press reported.
The debate over the 10-mile strip has exacerbated tensions between the city’s Black and White residents. For one, Kansas City’s Black leaders and the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a civil rights organization that King helped to start, have been trying to get the name changed since 2015. Kansas City had been one of the nation’s largest cities lacking a street or major building that honors King’s name, according to the Kansas City Star. Another issue is that many of the mostly White opponents reportedly don’t live along the route, which runs through a predominantly Black area, reports the AP.
Tensions rose even higher this past Sunday (November 3) when the White opponents to the new street name walked into the Black Paseo Baptist Church and silently stood along its two aisles, refusing to sit or acknowledge their actions could easily be interpreted as rude. Instead, their intent was to antagonize the Black Christian leaders who had called the Save the Paseo group racist to “say it to our faces,” the AP reported.
Reverend Vernon Howard, president of the Kansas City chapter of the SCLC, told the AP that those protestors clearly did not understand. “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,” Howard said.