LEES SUMMIT, Mo. — About 8 miles across Lee’s Summit are named for an early American politician. Now, almost 140,000 people across the country want to change that.
Todd George was a lifelong resident of Lee’s Summit. He served six terms as mayor in the early 1900’s, and he was the treasurer of Jackson County.
But as the country deals with a reckoning on race, there’s a push to examine his life more closely –and remove his name from city streets.
“What has come to light in recent years are documents, letters showing that he was very much a vocal critic, an outspoken critic of integration and racial equality,” said Jeremy Drouin, historian with the Kansas City Public Library.
That’s why Merriah Hamaker created a petition to change the street name to honor Kansas City native Lucile Bluford.
“I want to change the street name to Lucile Bluford because she was a really, really powerful woman who wanted to study journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia but was ejected because she was black,” Hamaker said.
“She took it to the Supreme Court 11 years before Brown v. Board of Education was passed. That is someone I want to value and respect and bring into the future.”
Hamaker, a Lee’s Summit resident, said she’s never experienced racism herself, but felt compelled to do something to make a change.
“America, Lee’s Summit was made for me. It wasn’t made for the people that I’m trying to help right now,” she said.
Tuesday night, the Lee’s Summit City Council heard a presentation from the city’s human relations commission, where they recommended that the city begin the process of finding a different name.
However, not everyone was on board with a name change.
Some residents argued that George’s language describing Black citizens was simply a reflection of the time and, according to members of the council, George’s family has argued in the past that there has been no direct evidence that their relative was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Ultimately, the council voted unanimously to have the public works committee begin the renaming process, which Lee’s Summit City Manger Stephen Arbo said will take some time.
Hamaker, however, said it’s past time for a change.
“The past informs the present, which informs the future,” she said. “We ought to focus on the figures of the past that we want to emulate in the future.”