Dismantling J.C. Nichols’ racist legacy

BikeWalkKC believes our streets should be places for people, but in Kansas City they have historically been inaccessible as a place for black and indigenous people of color to occupy without harm. Worse yet: these spaces have been used to memorialize individuals who played a major role in creating the racist elements that continue to harm our most vulnerable. 

Nowhere is this more apparent than the fountain and parkway that bears the name of J.C. Nichols.

J.C. Nichols was a consequential figure in both local and national history for the wrong reasons. As a real estate developer, Nichols was one of several key players who championed redlining as a means of dividing parts of Kansas City based on race, and he reinforced these efforts with “restrictive covenants”, which effectively barred black residents from moving into white neighborhoods. 

Though the Supreme Court eventually struck down the restrictive covenants, the effects of these policies are still acutely felt today. Beyond fueling racist ideologies, these separate and unequal policies and actions have resulted in myriad impacts, including food insecurity, lack of affordable housing near job centers, lack of access to parks and recreation areas, crumbling or missing sidewalks, streets that are uncomfortable to bike or walk on due to high rates of car speed and/or lack of safe crossing, and first/last mile connectivity issues for public transit. All of these combine and contribute to today’s historically high rates of obesity and preventable health issues in Kansas City’s disinvested communities.

Though there have been calls for his name to be removed in the past, the recent protests against police brutality and systemic racism have once again placed a spotlight on this important issue. A Parks Board Commissioner recently asked the Board to rename the parkway and fountain that bear the Nichols name.

BikeWalkKC supports the removal of J.C. Nichols’ name from both the fountain and adjacent street. We support giving these important and highly visible public spaces new names that can become symbols of reconciliation and progress.

There will be two upcoming meetings for the public to weigh in on these and we encourage people to attend, provided they follow physical distancing guidelines and wear a mask. You may also submit comments to KCParksEngage@kcmo.org

We also encourage regional leaders to rename the numerous streets, parks, and public spaces that honor racist figures and/or ignore the painful history of black people and other marginalized communities across the metro.

We have a long way to go to acknowledge the history of racism woven into the streets of KCMO, and even further to correct the policies that continue to impact the people who occupy them today. Removing the J.C. Nichols name is only the beginning.

If you are able, we hope you will consider becoming a member of BikeWalkKC. Memberships start at $10 and provide critical resources for us to continue our work in these uncertain times. Our members are a growing collection of voices speaking up and affirming that our streets are places for people. Click here to join.

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