Push to rename J.C. Nichols fountain and parkway gains steam from anti-racism protests
The J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain has been a fixture of Kansas City for some-sixty years.
But the iconic fountain commemorates a man tied to racist policies that still reverberate today.
The fountain and parkway, which are situated next to each other on the Plaza in KCMO, are named for Jesse Clyde Nichols. Nichols was a real estate developer in the early nineteenth century. His philosophies about socioeconomic status and race would go on to establish decades of racial housing segregation in the Kansas City area and around the country.
Nichols’ company developed the Country Club Plaza and surrounding neighborhoods. Nichols, who had a hand in every step of the process, urged real estate agents and homeowners associations to refuse people that didn’t meet a certain socioeconomic threshold and to discriminate against non-whites. This practice further segregated the city, and the effects of it are still felt to this day.
With the fountain and surrounding park becoming a focal point of Black Lives Matter protests in the city, momentum is building to rename the street and fountain.
Parks and Recreation Board Commissioner Chris Goode has released a memo urging the board to take action.
The blueprint Nichols created segregated, redlined and divided Kansas City, Goode says, and it’s time to stop honoring him.
“It’s time for the glorification and celebration of his name to cease,” Goode says.
The current protests have put the issue into sharp relief.
“This is decades and decades and decades overdue,” he says. “ There is no better time for our nation to make a gesture such as this from the heart of the country. From the place where those practices of hatred and separation and division were created and spread across the country like wildfire.”
At some point we all have to decide. For me that point is now. I love Kansas City and owe so much to this community. …
Goode suggested changing the names to the Dream Fountain and the road next to it, also named for Nichols, to the Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.
“I think it makes a bold statement when you eradicate the name of an openly known racist individual to then celebrate the name of someone that paid the ultimate sacrifice for this very conversation of unity,” he says.
However, Goode emphasizes that these are just suggestions, and he encourages the public to offer up their own names. He says what’s important is that they are changed since they represent so much more than just renaming old memorials.
“Our goal is to make our city more reflective of the people that are paying tax dollars into everything that makes us great,” he says.
The next step is to schedule hearings for the public to give their input, and Goode urges the public to use their voices, to speak up and to fight for what they want.
“What we know is that things of a long-standing nature can only be uprooted when there is massive unwavering support from those that not afraid to be ostracized, not afraid to be threatened and not afraid to be pushed off the mark of our goal,” Goode says.