Charlottesville City Council voted 4-1 Monday evening to rename two City parks — Emancipation and Justice Parks — to Market Street Park and Court Square Park, respectively. Councilor Wes Bellamy, the sole dissenting vote, said the chosen names were “neutral” and represented the community’s “reluctance” to face controversy.
The parks were originally renamed last summer from Lee and Jackson Park — named for Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson — to remove ties to Confederate generals and slavery.
However, some community activists didn’t 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 City Council session in March that the name has a bad connotation.
Two rounds of surveys were sent out to City residents, though many votes in the first survey came from outside the City. The second round of polling — designed by Councilors to choose between the top three options from the first survey — concluded on June 30. Council took a few measures to prevent outsider votes in the second round, including cross-checking results with utility bill surveys. Results were sent to respondents July 14.
In the most recent round of polls, one-third of respondents voted Market Street Park to replace Emancipation Park, while 18.6 percent voted for Swanson Legacy Park — paying tribute to Gregory Swanson, the first African American admitted to U.Va. — and 13.8 percent voted for Central Park. Approximately 22.9 percent of respondents wrote-in an answer, with about half of write-ins suggesting Lee Park — the first name of the park.
For Justice Park, 57.9 percent voted for Court Square Park, 17.4 percent voted to retain Justice Park and 7.5 percent opted for Courthouse Park. 17.2 percent of respondents wrote-in answers, with nearly half of write-ins choosing Jackson Park.
“While not a scientifically valid sample of the public opinion of our local community, staff
believes the survey did surface valuable information about the community’s park naming preferences,” the item on Council’s Monday agenda read.
The original renaming of the parks was nominally a partial motivation for white nationalists to protest in Charlottesville last August for the Unite the Right rally.
Council’s vote on Monday comes less than a month before the rally’s anniversary on Aug. 12, when white nationalist organizer Jason Kessler has suggested some groups may return for another demonstration.