City votes overwhelmingly to remove Martin Luther King's name from historic street

Voters in Kansas City overwhelmingly passed a measure that will remove the name of Martin Luther King Jr. from one of the city's most historic streets.

The decision, approved by a 70 percent vote on Tuesday, came less than a year after councilmembers originally renamed the road. At the time, Kansas City was one of the only major U.S. cities without a memorial to the late civil rights icon, according to the Associated Press.

Campaigns to remove King's name began as early as April, when locals started circulating a petition to reverse the decision. That proposal, which called for a return to the boulevard's original name, the Paseo, soon gained enough support to appear on Tuesday's ballot.

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The 10-mile boulevard is located in the city's east side — an area home to a sizeable black and Hispanic population. When the name change took place in January, many celebrated the move as the end of a decades-long battle to recognize King's legacy.

"We have overcome a borderline regressive electoral body that almost didn’t do this, but we thank God for the progressive leaders on this council that rose up today and are a reflection of what one Kansas City can look like," Dr. Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, told the Associated Press at the time

Now some of those supporters have accused those who voted to undo the name change of racism. In light of Tuesday's vote, Howard told NBC News that the sign would have stood as a symbol to inner-city kids "lacking the kinds of images and models for mentoring, modeling, vocation and career."

"What people will wonder in their minds and hearts is why and how something so good, uplifting and edifying, how can something like that be taken away?" Howard added.

But those who advocated for the Paseo's return have argued against those claims. Diane Euston, a leader of the Save the Paseo group, told NBC News that the original street name "doesn't just mean something to one community in Kansas City."

"It holds kind of a special place in so many people's hearts and memories. It's not just historical on paper, it's historical in people's memory," Euston said.

Those who supported King's removal from the street have also said they'd like to honor the civil rights leader in another way. The Save the Paseo group has claimed that many residents were not notified of the name change, saying on the group's site that "the voices of those who were affected were not considered."

There are currently at least 1,000 streets named after King worldwide, according to a 2018 analysis by Fast Company.

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