City to conduct second survey about Emancipation, Justice Parks’ names

The new surveys will ask residents to choose between a list of three names for each park

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43 percent of outside write-in voters chose a variation of Lee Park, a name the City said it would not accept. 

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

At its meeting Monday night, the Charlottesville City Council continued its debate on the renaming of Emancipation Park and Justice Park — formerly Lee Park and Jackson Park. City Council decided to release another survey to the Charlottesville community, which Council will use to make a final decision in July.

In the new survey, voters can choose between Market Street Park, Swanson Legacy Park or Central Park to replace Emancipation Park. For Justice Park, residents can opt for Court Square Park, Courthouse Park, Swanson Legacy Park or to simply retain Justice Park. As with the last survey — which ended earlier this month — a free-response option will be provided for both parks.

Swanson Legacy Park refers to Gregory Swanson, the first black man to be admitted to the University.

City Council voted unanimously last June to change the names of Lee and Jackson Parks to Emancipation Park and Justice Park, respectively. This renaming was done because Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson — the parks’ namesakes — were Confederate generals and had significant historical ties to slavery.

However, activists did not approve of Emancipation Park’s new title, finding the name to imply African Americans have been passive in gaining their freedom, and that it washes away African American efforts for liberation. Local activist Mary Carey said in a March Council session the name has a bad connotation.

“I think the name ‘Emancipation Park’ really hurt the African Americans in this town,” Carey said. “We’ve been through enough with slavery ... It’s still kind of hurtful when I walk around town all day and see that name when you walk down Market Street to the park. You don’t see the names of black heroes, parks for black heroes, things you’d like to see” Carey said. 

Some residents also found the name “Emancipation Park” incongruous with the statue of Robert E. Lee sitting in the center. City Council decided in February 2017 to remove the statue, but an ongoing lawsuit has prevented the city from taking the statue out of the park.

Despite community disagreement, Council voted for the name. “Emancipation Park” was not on the official list of names suggested by residents, so many residents felt City Council had ignored them. Following the vote, the Unity Coalition created a petition to pressure Council to choose new names approved by the majority of Charlottesville residents. Carey authored this petition and has claimed the petition has acquired over 800 signatures.

After receiving this petition, City Council agreed to find new names for Emancipation Park and Justice Park. City Council Council created a survey March 6 to enable local residents to put forward names to replace Emancipation and Justice Park. 

During the meeting Monday, City Council looked over the data from the last survey. For Emancipation Park, the most popular names were among Market Street Park, Vinegar Hill Park, Central Park, and Library Park. For Justice Park, they were Court Square Park, Courthouse Park, and Justice Park. Council already planned on giving the name Vinegar Hill Park to the western end of Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, so the name was removed from consideration.

After the survey is completed in July, City Council will deliberate on the parks’ name.

Local resident Jim Hensley proposed enlarging the voting pool to include residents of Albemarle County instead of just Charlottesville residents. He claimed that many workers in Charlottesville do not live in the city, so they are not allowed to vote in these surveys though they are impacted as well. 

“To limit it to city limits excludes people,” Hensley said. 

However, Mayor Nikuyah Walker pointed out that expanding the electorate would undermine the black vote in Charlottesville. Vice Mayor Heather Hill agreed.

“It’s a slippery slope once you go beyond the city limits,” Hill said. 

City Council determined the survey will run only within City limits. An online version of the survey will be available and it will also be sent out to city residents in utility bills. 

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