Jutgory registered the second Comment of the Day spawned by Kansas City returning one of its historic boulevards to its original name, less than a year after re-naming it for civil rights martyr, Martrin Luther King. The first COTD on the topic is here.
Looking at the re-naming question from a totally different, and interesting angle, is JutGory’s Comment of The Day on #4, the Kansas City Street Name Battle, in the post, “Evening Ethics Update, 11/7/2019: Dr. King Is Un-honored, Virginian Republicans Are Non-Functional, Fox News Is Pro-Darkness, And Joy Behar Is Still An Idiot”…
I have thought quite a bit about the MLK issue and this post seems as good a reason as any to comment.
First off (a disclaimer): I am not a huge MLK fan. And, what I mean by that is that I find Malcolm X to be a much more compelling figure. It is not that one has to have a favorite civil rights leader. They can both be good, but MLK seems to be the civil rights leader that gained the White People Stamp of Approval. That’s really not MLK’s fault, but I prefer Malcolm X’s harsh realism to MLK’s lofty idealism.
Next, names are important. But re-naming something, as the case in KC, is often more important. My area is embroiled in such a naming controversy of late. For those not in the know, a lake in our area was recently re-named (sort of). The Lake had been named after the Secretary of War when local soldiers were surveying the area for settlement. The Secretary of War also served as a United States Senator, and rose to the level of Vice-President of the United States.
The problem is that he was an all around horrible individual, so horrible that even Andrew Jackson hated him. And, not only that, he both owned slaves and defended slavery. That, of course, was John Calhoun, the namesake for Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis.
Well, in the climate of “cancel culture,” that cannot stand. The City Council, in a virtue signaling “two-fer” and without much of any public input, decided to re-name the lake to “Bde Maka Ska” (your pronunciation may vary), its original name given to it by our Sioux Indian predecessors. Other parties quickly came in to assert their jurisdiction over the name of the lake. It was quickly changed back to Lake Calhoun. But, the chattering masses of the Facebook mob would have none of that; with the cat out of the bag, they are committed to Bde Maka Ska; Wikipedia also seems to have expurgated Lake Calhoun from its pages.
Don’t get me wrong: I am no fan of Calhoun. But, I am reluctant to commit the “genetic fallacy” that the origin of the name of the lake continues to have the meaning of the name as it was originally conceived. While named for John Calhoun, the name Calhoun now encompasses the area (Calhoun Square, Calhoun Drive, Calhoun Beach Club, etc). That was the name it held for close to 200 years. It was the name by which I knew it before I even knew who John Calhoun was.
(Lake Harriet is located right nearby and only today did I learn that it was named for the wife of Henry Leavenworth, who was stationed at Fort Snelling (another name) at the time. No one seems to care about Harriet Lovejoy.)
So, getting back to The Paseo in KC, it reminds me of the MLK Blvd. in St. Paul. There was a Chris Rock skit, I believe, that said you never wanted to find yourself on MLK Blvd. in the middle of the night. They are often located in bad parts of town. I don’t know if that is true of The Paseo, but it is definitely not true in the capital of The State Mondale Won. The MLK Blvd. in St. Paul passes right in front of the State Capital and the Supreme Court building. There is probably no more prestigious place to put it (though you still might not want to be caught there in the middle of the night).
What is my problem with that street being named after MLK? The name it replaced: it used to be called Constitution Avenue. Whatever the merits of MLK, Constitution Avenue is a far superior name for the street where the government is located.
Am I being unreasonable? Am I being racist? Are the reasons for my opposition to the names merely pretextual?
I don’t think so. There are two streets that branch off from MLK. One is John Ireland Blvd, named for an early bishop in St. Paul; that blvd. leads directly to the Cathedral of St. Paul a couple blocks away, so the name makes sense. The other is Cedar Street which, to the best of my knowledge, is named after no one. They could have easily changed that. Or, there is Plymouth Avenue in Minneapolis, but that is in a minority neighborhood; it is the stereotypical location for an MLK blvd.
But, re-naming is not easy. There are all kinds of names around the area, commemorating people none of us remember. Dale, Selby, Wabasha, Lyndale, Dowling, Lowry, Olson Memorial Highway (apparently named for a staunch communist), Snelling, Henneppin, Rice, Sibley, Robert, Washington, heck, we even have a Cesar Chavez Blvd.
I don’t know much about The Paseo. But, even trying to take a prominent name and changing can be complicated. I thought that they could change University Avenue to MLK. University Avenue crosses from one side of St. Paul to the other side of Minneapolis. Of course, it crosses right through the University of Minnesota. That would be a disruptive change. So, even when the streets are not named for someone, a change can be objectionable. It is a landmark by itself.
So, are the people in KC being racist? I don’t know. I doubt it (though some might be). It is not a simple proposition (or, at least, not as simple as it seems). There are any number of streets around here that could have been chosen to be named after MLK, and that probably would offend next to no one.
But, I do not like that Constitution Avenue was renamed for MLK (I write MLK because it is too long to write Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard–that’s another thing, Constitution Avenue is shorter).
I’m back for a few quick comments.
- Andrew Jackson hated all kinds of people. You didn’t have to be horrible. It is true, however, that he harbored a special dislike for Calhoun, who looks like he could have been the model for the silly painting the maniac who haunted the house in the remake of “The Haunting,” Hugh Crain. Here’s the Senator…
And here’s Hugh…
- Jut makes an interesting point: there are three reasons to rename a street, park or other landmark. The first is to remove the name of someone now considered unworthy. The second is to give a new honor to a personage deserving of an honor. The third is to do both simultaneously. The problem is that it almost always appears to be third, regardless of the intent.