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Highway adopted by KKK may be named after Rosa Parks

February 08, 2000
By: Dan Shaw
State Capital Bureau
Links: SB 876

JEFFERSON CITY - Within months the Ku Klux Klan could be responsible for cleaning a road named for Rosa Parks, the black woman made famous for refusing to move to the back of the bus.

Sen. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, proposes to memorialize Parks, one of the major heroes in the civil rights movement, by renaming a section of Interstate 55 outside St. Louis.

If the legislature were to act quickly enough, the timing would be fitting, as February is black history month.

The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan pledged to keep the half-mile stretch of roadway free of garbage as part of Missouri's Adopt-A-Highway program. In return, the Klan was allowed to erect signs, which were recently stolen.

The Klan has not actually cleaned the road. It narrowly avoided suspension from the program several days ago when a representative picked up supplies from the transportation department.

Clay said the idea to change the road's name came from a group that erected a billboard after the signs were stolen. The board reads: "Freedom of Speech Protects All People, Even When They're Wrong."

"It came to me as a way to counter what has happened with the Adopt-A-Highway program," Clay said.

The Missouri Transportation Department filed suit when the Klan first asked to participate in the program. The agency argued that the state should not be affiliated with a group with racist policies that violate anti-discrimination laws.

A federal judge held last April that prohibiting the Klan from participation violated the constitutional rights of members.

"We feel this naming of the highway will the best way to send our message," Clay said.

The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Danny Staples, D-Eminence, pledged support.

"I wish I would have thought of it," Staples said.