Kansas City voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved removing Dr. Martin Luther King's name from one of the city's most historic boulevards. The decision comes less than a year after the city council decided to rename the street, which had been known as The Paseo.
Unofficial results showed the proposal to remove King's name received nearly 70% of the vote, with just over 30% voting to retain King's name.
The debate over the name of the 10-mile boulevard on the city's mostly black east side began shortly after the council's decision in January to rename The Paseo for King. Civil rights leaders who pushed for the change celebrated when the street signs went up, believing they had finally won a decades-long battle to honor the civil rights icon, which appeared to end Kansas City's reputation as one of the largest U.S. cities in the country without a street named for him.
But a group of residents intent on keeping The Paseo name began collecting petitions to put the name change on the ballot and achieved that goal in April.
The campaign has been divisive, with supporters of King's name accusing opponents of being racist, while supporters of The Paseo name say city leaders pushed the name change through without following proper procedures and ignored The Paseo's historic value.
Emotions reached a peak Sunday, when members of 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. They walked into the Paseo Baptist Church and stood along its two aisles.
The protesters stood silently and did not react to several speakers that accused them of being disrespectful in a church but they also refused requests from preachers to sit down.
The Reverend Vernon Howard, president of the Kansas City chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, told The Associated Press that the King street sign is a powerful symbol for everyone but 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," Howard said:
"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?"