Protests prompted the renaming of Kansas City’s iconic fountain

Protests prompted the renaming of Kansas City's iconic fountain

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Decades after influential developer JC Nichols kept blacks, Jews and other minorities out of the subsections he built that transformed the Kansas City region, protests over the death of George Floyd could have his name removed from one of the most iconic locations of the city.

The Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation is considering removing the name of Nichols from a fountain and an adjacent parkway near the posh Country Club Plaza, which Nichols has developed. The JC Nichols Memorial Fountain is the best known and most photographed fountain in the “City of Fountains” and graces most of Kansas City’s tourist and marketing promotions.

It honors a man who developed more than 4,000 acres (16 square kilometers) of housing in the area in the 20th century and offers mid-range to luxury homes in tree-lined streets with large lawns and other amenities not widely available at the time. The neighborhoods he built are still among the most desirable residential areas in the region.

His reputation is being scrutinized as Nichols used deed restrictions to dissuade blacks, Jews and other minorities from buying his homes – a practice known as redlining – and relegating them to poorer neighborhoods and helping a racially separated city that remains to this day. Nichols also became nationally influential, with developers elsewhere following his practices, according to history professor William Worley.

The idea of ​​removing Nichols’ name gained momentum amid protests over racial injustice fueled by Floyd’s death on May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer had his knee on the black man’s cuffed neck for nearly eight minutes. printed.

“If you look at what’s going on – the racial climate, the urge for social justice – the focus on JC Nichols is really part of a bigger conversation,” said Chris Goode, a Commissioner of Parks who submitted the proposal to rename the fountain and parkway. “His practices have contributed to the climate we have today. Together the world and Kansas City are ready to turn the page and start a new day.”

The proposal seems to receive widespread support in the city of about 500,000 inhabitants, about 30% of whom are black. At a recent public meeting, only four out of about forty speakers opposed the removal of Nichols’ name. Goode said that only 18% of the first 350 emails the park board received came from opponents. No organized group has been formed to keep the name of Nichols.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, in support of the removal of the name, said in a statement, “No one accelerated the white flight, redlining and racial division in the Kansas City area more than JC Nichols.”

Tim O’Mara, a Kansas City salesman, was one of the people who wanted to keep the Nichols name. He told The Associated Press that he does not defend Nichols’ racist policies, but believes they reflected his time.

“I’m not in favor of throwing away our history or throwing away all the old statues and monuments,” said O’Mara. “I think nothing about the (deed restrictions) was acceptable, but there’s no need to wipe it out of our history.”

Worley, who wrote “JC Nichols and the Shaping of Kansas City,” said the restrictions on the act in English law go back to at least the 16th century and were intended to protect property values.

“I’m not going to defend his racial decisions, but his main reasons were economic,” said Worley. “He was particularly interested in attracting people to his developments who could afford his homes and who would maintain them for years to come. Taking an economic decision that was also racially discriminatory was consistent with most developers of the time. “

Many people are unaware of Nichols’ national influence, Goode said, which makes it important for Kansas City to symbolically reject his practices by removing his name. He argues that statues, monuments and street names represent the city’s brand and that everyone should feel welcome.

The next meeting of the park board is Tuesday. If the decision to remove the name remains, city officials will continue to suggest new names until at least July 7.

Goode suggested calling the fountain the Dream Fountain. He initially proposed renaming the JC Nichols Parkway for Martin Luther King Jr., but withdrew that suggestion after the Southern Christian Leadership Conference objected, saying the short parkway was not enough of an honor for the civil rights leader.

Kansas City is one of the largest cities in the country where no street has been named after King after a debate erupted last year when officials called him a major thoroughfare. Voters overwhelmingly chose to return the street name to The Paseo.

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