Voters to decide: The Paseo or MLK Blvd

On November 5, voters decide the name of the historic boulevard. We offer two separate opinions from the leaders of Save the Paseo and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Why you should vote Yes for The Paseo

Diane Euston

By Diane Euston, Historian, Spokesperson for Save the Paseo

  On Jan. 24, the City Council voted 8-4 to rename our most historic boulevard, The Paseo, for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Shortly afterward, a group of residents along The Paseo organized and started an initiative petition to put this issue to a citywide vote. This diverse group of people called Save The Paseo came together from all areas of the city to unite under one cause. There are three reasons you should vote yes on Question 5 on November 5th:

  1. The historical significance of The Paseo.  The Paseo is one of the most historically significant boulevards in Kansas City. Created from the vision of landscape architect George Kessler in 1893 as part of the City Beautiful Movement, The Paseo, named after Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City, is one of the main arteries of the Parks and Boulevard System meant to beautify our city. The Paseo is so significant to our history that the oldest section is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

  2. The disenfranchisement of neighborhoods along The Paseo. Thousands of Kansas Citians that live on and near The Paseo were ignored by the City Council and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). There are 14 neighborhoods along The Paseo, and there is no evidence that any of them were part of community engagement with the SCLC. Former 5th District City Councilwoman Alissia Canady said she didn’t receive a single letter in support of this name change to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard; in actuality, she received numerous emails and phone calls opposing the change.

  Former mayor Sly James formed an advisory group to investigate what options would be best to honor Dr. King. Their number one recommendation was the airport. Out of street names, 63rd St. was the preferred choice (6 out of 9 votes). The Paseo was last on the list but was the only option brought in front of the City Council. 

  3. City Charter and ordinances were ignored. City charter states that those who wish to change the name of a street must get permission from 75% of the property owners on that street. That didn’t happen. The Parks Board (who is in charge of naming and renaming boulevards) denied the request to rename The Paseo due to its “historical significance,” and in turn the SCLC started an initiative petition in 2018 to put this to a citywide vote.  They were unable to get the signatures required but claim they had 100 signatures of those living on The Paseo. No one has ever seen this evidence. In turn, the SCLC went to the City Council where they waived ordinances in order to change the name. This is not how our democratic process works.

  In March 2019,  volunteers for Save The Paseo collected just shy of 3,000 signatures to meet the verified goal of 1706 signatures, the number required to place the issue on the November 5 ballot. 

   Those on the other side of this issue want to paint this an issue of race. This is far from the truth. Save The Paseo is a diverse group of people. We can honor Dr. King and keep The Paseo. A vote of YES on Nov. 5 ensures that we will have further conversations and show elected officials we have procedures and processes in place for a reason. 

Why you should vote No for The Paseo

Image result for Rev. Dr. Vernon Percy Howard, Jr

By Rev. Dr. Vernon Percy Howard, Jr. President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Greater Kansas City

When our civil and human rights organization, Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City (SCLC-GKC), was approached by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd clergy and residents to help with the effort to honor Dr. King with a street renaming here in Kansas City we were excited for the opportunity to participate in such a noble undertaking. 

It was the late and highly esteemed Pastors Charles Briscoe of Paseo Baptist Church, Nathan Bouie of Kansas City, and Bishop Mark C. Tolbert, along with their congregations and neighborhood residents who asked for our help. With the support, wisdom, and counsel of U.S. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas (City Council member at the time), former Councilman Jermaine Reed, Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, and many others we engaged in many outreach efforts.

We obtained 100 signatures of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd residents prior to council action. We went door to door in the cold of winter to distribute information along the full length of then Paseo residents. We held a march and rally along what was then Paseo that included approximately 500 individuals. We held a 5th District outreach at the Christ Tabernacle church in the southern part of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Blvd which was recorded by HBO Vice and attended by the then KCMO 5th District City Council representatives. The City of Kansas City, Missouri, sponsored several open community engagement events in the Northland, South Kansas City, and the urban core. We obtained 1,000 signatures of Kansas City residents. The Mayor and City Council of Kansas City, MO held numerous open conversations in their deliberations as well as several committee hearings about the subject. Multiple opinion and news articles and stories appeared in print and electronic mediums such as the Kansas City Star, Kansas City Globe, Kansas City Call, New York Times, and all local news channels including KCPT, KCUR, KPRS, KPRT, KKFI and others. How could people have not known? How can anyone, with any sense of honesty, say there was no outreach or engagement unless they themselves were not engaged? 

Let’s be clear. To our knowledge, no other major street name in Kansas City has required what opponents are asking for with respect to this name change. Not Bernard Powell Drive. Not Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd. Not Bruce R. Watkins Drive. Not Avenida Cesar E. Chavez. And, certainly not any street name changes of a white historical figure or icon.

But we are a people of love, goodwill, reconciliation, anti-racism, pro black cultural enrichment, and fairness for all. In the spirit of Dr. King, and in the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth who was his inspiration, we engage faithfully, peaceably, and without personal attack, name-calling, accusation, or harm to others. In the spirit of democracy let this election occur.

Let us see what the end will be.

Vote NO on Question 5 on November 5. Vote NO to Keep the Dream, KEEP Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.


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