Protests spark move to rename iconic Kansas City fountain

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In this photo taken Tuesday, June 23, 2020, people gather at the J.C. Nichols fountain in Kansas City, Mo. The city's board of parks and recreation is considering a proposal to remove the J.C. Nichols name from the fountain and a nearby street as they address racial concerns about the influential local developer. Nichols developed some of the area's most desirable neighborhoods as well as the city's County Club Plaza shopping district in the early 1900's but excluded Blacks, Jews and other minorities using deed restrictions on his properties. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Decades after influential developer J.C. Nichols kept Blacks, Jews and other minorities out of subdivisions he built that transformed the Kansas City region, protests over the death of George Floyd might lead to his name being removed from one of the city's most iconic sites.

The Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation is considering removing Nichols' name from a fountain and an adjacent parkway near the upscale Country Club Plaza, which Nichols developed. The J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain is the best known and most photographed fountain in the “City of Fountains” and adorns most tourism and marketing promotions for Kansas City.

It honors a man who developed more than 4000 acres (16 square kilometers) of residential property in the area in the 1900s, offering middle-class to upscale homes on tree-lined streets with large lawns and other amenities not generally available at the time. The neighborhoods he built are still among the most desirable residential areas in the region.

His reputation is being scrutinized because Nichols used deed restrictions to keep Blacks, Jews and other minorities from buying his homes — a practice known as redlining — relegating them to poorer neighborhoods and helping to create a racially separated city that remains to this day. Nichols also became influential nationally, 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, sparked by the May 25 death of Floyd in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed his knee onto the handcuffed Black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes.

“When you look at what's going on — the racial climate, the push for social justice — the attention to J.C. Nichols really is part of a bigger conversation," said Chris Goode, a parks board commissioner who introduced the proposal to rename the fountain and parkway. “His practices helped lead to the climate we have today. Collectively, the world and Kansas City are just ready to turn the page, start a new day.”

The proposal seems to have broad support in the city of about 500,000 residents, about 30% of whom are Black. During a recent public meeting, only four of about 40 people who spoke opposed removing Nichols' name. Goode said about only 18% of the initial 350 emails the parks board received were from opponents. No organized group has formed to keep Nichols' name.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas supports removing the name, saying in a statement: “No person accelerated white flight, redlining, and racial division in the Kansas City area more than J.C. Nichols."