At virtual town hall, dozens sound off on renaming JC Nichols Fountain, Parkway

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Any statue, monument or name connected to slavery and racism is getting a hard, second look.

In Kansas City, the fountain and street named after JC Nichols is under review.

Nichols was a city planning mastermind and developed the Country Club Plaza, but he also helped write the rules that kept Blacks out of affluent neighborhoods for decades.

On Wednesday, the Kansas City parks board held a virtual town hall, listening to residents both for and against removing Nichols’ name from the parkway and fountain near the Plaza. The board held an in-person meeting on the issue last week

Cries for racial justice in Kansas City took over the area surrounding the JC Nichols Fountain for weeks this summer.

But the very place tied to Black Lives Matter rallies, and countless other protests for change, bears the name of this Kansas City developer linked to divisive practices.

“The impacts of JC Nichols’ policies and practices are significant and long lasting on African Americans,” said Scott Helm, professor at the UMKC Bloch School of Management.

Kansas City parks board members heard from more than three dozen residents both for and against that idea of removing Nichols’ name. 

Many of those commenting echoed the need for more community education about Nichols and his links to redlining, which racially divided Kansas City’s landscape.

“It’s important we use this opportunity not just to remove the name and check a box, but educate our city and beyond,” said Steff Hedenkamp, who supports the name change.

“Let’s learn from that past and not feel the need to remove and rename statues, leaving people who need to learn from it in oblivion,” said Marilyn, who opposes the name change.

Those speaking out against the idea insist Nichols had important contributions to building Kansas City into what it is today. They argue that a name change won’t make a difference in the fight for racial equality.

“If we start changing names, we will need to change all of them because we could find something not redeemable in everyone,” said Leigh Ann, who opposes the name change.

But others insist to begin the long, hard work of changing Kansas City’s racial divisions, Nichols’ name has to go.

“It’s a quiet complacency. That fountain is such a common meeting place for protests and those seeking justice. I think leaving it up is an insult to progress and change,” said Olivia Powell, who supports removing Nichols’ name.

The Kansas City parks board plans to vote Tuesday, June 30, on whether to remove JC Nichols’ name from the fountain and street.

If it votes ‘yes’ on removal, a separate process will be launched on what the two places should be called instead.

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