The Charlottesville City Council announced during its Jan. 16 meeting that the body would consider renaming Emancipation Park, formerly Lee Park, as the result of a petition submitted to the Council by longtime Charlottesville resident Mary Carey.
The Council initially Lee Park in June of last year, and to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the park early in 2017. The removal of the Lee statue is currently pending the outcome of — filed by the Monument Fund and the Virginia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — against the City Council and the City of Charlottesville to prevent the removal of the Lee statue.
The legality of the Council’s decision to rename Lee Park was initially a part of the lawsuit, until Charlottesville Circuit Court renaming it Emancipation Park this past September.
The Council’s decision to remove the Lee statue has been the subject of much controversy and was the publicly stated motive for The Council’s decision to rename Lee Park has also been the subject of criticism as “Emancipation” was not a name originally recommend to the body for consideration by the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Historic Resources Committee.
Longtime Charlottesville resident Mary Carey created the petition to change the name of Emancipation Park. In with The Cavalier Daily, Carey explained why she would like to see the name of Emancipation Park changed.
“I think the name ‘Emancipation Park’ really hurt the African-Americans in this town,” Carey said. “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.”
GOV360 — a non-profit organization with the goal of supporting civic engagement and constitutional accountability for government — has aided Carey in the petition process after she approached its leadership for assistance.
Lawrence Gaughan, executive director of GOV360, formed a program called the Unity Coalition for Cville Dialogue before the events of Aug. 12 in Charlottesville. Carey is an active member of the organization.
“Mary [Carey] came to us as a member of the Unity Coalition and said there was some concern, members of the black community were offended by the name Emancipation Park and she wanted to immediately change it to something like Central Park or Festival Park,” Gaughan said.
Gaughan described Carey as a prominent member of the local black community.
“Mary Carey is a 73-year-old black woman born and raised in Charlottesville and she is a very vocal activist,” Gaughan said. “She goes to city council meetings a lot, she likes to get up and have her voice be heard, and she is a figure that really represents a lot of voices in the black community that are often ignored.”
He added that the petition was not a formal one, and that nearly anybody in the Charlottesville community could add their name, regardless of their residence or voter status.
“It’s an informal petition, meaning that it’s not going before a judge necessarily … meaning you don’t have to be a city resident to sign it, you don’t have to be a registered voter, you can sign it if you’re just a county resident or any of the 150,000 people who live in the vicinity,” Gaughan said.
Paige Rice, clerk of the Charlottesville City Council, confirmed that Carey had started the petition to rename Emancipation Park and that the Council has added it to their agenda for the second meeting in February.
“Council is scheduled to discuss the matter at their Feb. 20 Council meeting,” Rice said in an email. “While a vote may take place, I don’t anticipate that it will.”
No members of City Council responded to requests for comment by press time.