KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri is no longer the largest U.S. city without a street named in honor of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
After a three-year battle, the city’s parks board unanimously agreed to give Blue Parkway the MLK name Tuesday.
The section of Swope Parkway, which joins into Volker Blvd and Blue Parkway along Brush Creek, will soon be known as MLK Blvd., and community leaders insist it’s about far more than a street name.
A vote to honor MLK was met with applause Tuesday afternoon.
Community leaders first seriously pursued changing a street to honor Dr. King in April 2018.
City council approved giving his name to The Paseo, a move undone soon after by a public vote.
For months, Kansas City’s park board listened to hundreds in the community, leading to Tuesday’s decision to make Blue Parkway bear the civil right’s icon’s name.
“The parks board has chosen to defend and protect black life and culture and congratulations on being on the right side of history,” said Dr. Vernon Howard with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City.
The move is an effort to not just honor Dr. King, but all those who’ve worked to better civil rights in Kansas City and beyond. Community leaders hope it sparks new momentum to bridge long-held divides.
“It’s a moment for us to move forward, for us to look towards investment in the east side of KC. It’s a moment for us to bridge the divide that’s long existed in this city between white people, black people. It’s time for us to come together,” said parks board commissioner Chris Goode.
Some did express concern the current condition of Blue Parkway is not the best honor to MLK’s life and legacy.
“Let this be the first step in honoring Dr. King and not the last. There’s a considerable amount of work to be done still to make this area look like it should to resemble and honor his name and his work,” said Jeron Ravin, Swope Health president and CEO.
The city insists this renaming comes with a commitment by the parks department to beautify Blue Parkway, anchored by a major overhaul at MLK Park, largely funded by 15 and the Mahomies Foundation.
“It isn’t just the improvements at MLK Park. It’s investment from our central city economic development sales tax, and the shops at not Blue Parkway but MLK Parkway. It’s our investments that take us all the way to 435. It’s this investment that finally says to everyone, Kansas City east to west, you matter,” said Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas.
The new street signs along the roughly seven-mile stretch should go up within the next two weeks. It brings minimal cost, since more than enough MLK Blvd. signs had already been printed when The Paseo was briefly named for Dr. King two years ago.