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Push to rename J.C. Nichols Fountain, Parkway gains traction

JC Nichols Fountain.jpg
JC Nichols Parkway.jpg
Posted at 5:13 PM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 18:51:00-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The J.C. Nichols Fountain is an iconic place in Kansas City, the City of Fountains.

Situated in Mill Creek Park just east of the Country Club Plaza, it's a popular gathering spot for families, recreation and protests, especially during the last two weeks since George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

Now, there's a growing call to change the name of both the fountain and J.C. Nichols Parkway, which runs along the west edge of Mill Creek Park and separates it from the Plaza.

KC Parks and Recreation Board Commissioner Chris Goode proposed removing Nichols' name from the fountain and adjacent street Tuesday at a board meeting.

"It’s more or less about doing what’s right, doing what’s representative of our people and not just one particular body," Goode said. "Making blacks and Hispanics and Jewish people feel welcome, not standing for something that has been a symbolism of racism in our city."

This push isn't new. 41 Action News did a story about a petition to rename the parkway after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. last November.

That effort didn't gain traction, but supporters like David Muhammad believe this push could be what is needed to get the change.

"Sometimes, it takes something like this to put it in someone’s face and wonder why you know," he said. "I think that symbols mean a lot when we look at moving forward as a society and, right now, with the magnitude of everything going on, I don’t think there’s a better time."

J.C. Nichols was a local developer born in Olathe. He helped create the Plaza and the surrounding communities.

"Part of that development involved the exclusion of certain segments of the population, explicitly to the African American community and, early on, Jewish families," Andrew Gustafson, who serves as curator of interpretation for the Johnson County Museum said.

Nichols also created housing associations and deed restrictions as part of a process referred to today as "redlining," which was designed to exclude certain demographics from living or working in certain areas of the city.

"Poorer neighborhoods they considered high risk for default (were) marked in red," Jeremy Drouin, manager of the Missouri Valley Special Collections at Kansas City Public Library, said. "The more affluent neighborhoods in green were consisted low risk."

Moving forward, Goode would like the J.C. Nichols Parkway named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the fountain renamed the "Dream Fountain."

"You’re going to be hard-pressed to find anyone in American history that stood for unity as boldly and proudly as he did," Goode said. "We want this to be a statement for collective unity, that’s it."

The KC Parks board will schedule two public comment sessions for input on the proposal, which Goode hopes may move toward some resolution in time for the next board meeting.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas supports the changes in Goode's letter to the board.