(CNN) – Voters in Kansas City, Missouri, decided to eliminate the name of Martin Luther King Jr. from a historic boulevard that was renamed in January to honor the civil rights leader.
In a special election on Tuesday, the move for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard to be renamed Boulevard The Paseo received about 65% of the vote, according to figures published by the city's Board of Election Commissioners.
The vote came after months of debate between groups seeking to honor King's legacy and some residents who did not want to lose their neighborhood identity.
The Paseo, as many locals call it, is one of the oldest boulevards in the city and runs from north to south through a predominantly black section of the city.
"We don't mind doing something to honor Dr. King, but we don't want to be taken off the Promenade to do it," said former city councilor Alissia Canady, who represented much of the area until her term ended, in August . She helped organize the Save The Paseo group, which gathered nearly 3,000 signatures to get the name change on Tuesday's ballot.
Canady voted against the name change in January, but was approved in an 8-4 vote.
"That really angered the neighborhood because they felt it was done through the back door and that it deviated from the process and took away their voice," Canady said.
That caused tensions between the residents and the South Christian City Leadership Conference in Greater Kansas City, which worked for three years for the boulevard to be named King.
"These boulevards are treasured in Kansas City and rightfully so," said Vernon Percy Howard Jr., president of the group.
He said Tuesday's vote makes Kansas City once again one of the few major cities that does not have a street in honor of King.
"For 51 years since the assassination of Dr. King, no one in this city moved to advance or develop any kind of plan or program to honor Dr. King in an important way," Howard said. "There is a park that is shameful in downtown Kansas City that is not well maintained and is very small and insignificant with respect to its beauty, its architecture, its land space, its footprint and all that."
Howard said he was surprised by the resistance to change.
“I am surprised by the vigor and hostility that some African Americans have expressed, who believe that this generic name has more weight or is more important to them than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who shed his blood and died for our right and our ability to own homes, obtain loans, have equal employment opportunities, be protected from racial discrimination in the workplace, in homes, on public transport, etc., ”he said.
He also blamed the opposition for the gentrification of the area and the influx of money from white investors.
"It is the epitome of white privilege and systemic and structural racism that a predominantly white group really had the audacity to determine or dictate in a predominantly African-American community who, or what they should honor, and where and how," Howard said.
Canady, who is black, called that a deviation.
"The majority of property owners in Paseo are black, residents and property owners are black," he said. “Most companies, most residents are black. So these are black leaders who oppress the voices of black owners. ”
She said they did not respect the wishes of the community.
"They tried to do something good, but they did it incorrectly," he said.
Canady said he preferred that the city's new airport terminal be named after King, or a street from east to west because it would cross black and white neighborhoods.
The University of Tennessee Geography professor Derek Alderman and his research team have been building a street database named Martin Luther King for more than 20 years.
Alderman says they have identified 955 streets named after King in 41 states, as well as Washington and Puerto Rico, until December 2017. That includes streets that use their full name or variations such as MLK or ML King, but not streets that simply they name King because they cannot refer to the civil rights leader.
“I can confirm with confidence that among the 50 most populous cities (according to 2015 estimates), Kansas City is now one of three cities without a street called Dr. King. The other two cities are San Jose, California, and Omaha, Nebraska, ”he said.
Those cities have public buildings that are named after King, he said.
Howard and his followers said they still think that naming a street in tribute to King is the best way to go.
Mayor Quinton Lucas was on the city council in January and supported the name change. He told WDAF, a CNN affiliate, that his job now is to bring the community together so that residents can pay tribute to King.
"People want to make sure we interact with enough community stakeholders and I think it is fair to say that this did not happen, and that is why we are in the position we are in now," he told the station. “This was not so much a repudiation of Dr. King's name or the ministers involved. Instead, he says: ‘Let's make sure we work together and do it well.”
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