While a court injunction currently prevents the statue of Robert E. Lee from being moved, the city is moving full speed ahead in an effort to change the names of local parks named for Confederate heroes.
After fielding suggestions from almost all committee members, the Charlottesville Historic Resources Committee decided on four names each for both Lee Park and Jackson Park to recommend to City Council.
For Lee Park, the committee recommended Community Park, Central Park, Market Street Park and Festival Park. For Jackson Park, it suggested Court Square Park, Courthouse Park, The Commons and Memory Park.
Most committee members agreed it was important to suggest names that had conceptual or geographical connotations to promote inclusivity rather than names referring to a single person or historical figure.
Committee member Margaret O’Bryant, who served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Monuments and Public Spaces, suggested names such as Community Park and Central Park, saying that each “expresses a centrality of our community” and in their neutrality apply to all facets of the Charlottesville population.
Committee co-chair Edwina St. Rose abstained from each vote, however, and said at the beginning of the meeting that she thought the committee should not make a recommendation.
“I believe the council has already seen quite a number of recommendations,” St. Rose said.
City Council recently received more than 2,000 suggestions through an online survey, which showed the top results as Lee Park and Jackson Park, although the survey allowed more than one submission per person and some suggest it was loaded with those who oppose any kind of name change.
Committee member Dede Smith said any future survey effort would have to be formulated in a way to allow one vote per person, calling the City Council survey a “good idea” but “flawed.”
“I don’t think we can put a lot of weight on what actually we saw,” Smith said.
St. Rose also called for a more “democratic” selection process that would be powered by Charlottesville residents, such as a referendum. “I don’t understand this process,” she said.
While the meeting was open to the public, the committee did not field any public comments because that will take place at an upcoming City Council meeting.
After the meeting, some attendees said they were disappointed by the lack of opportunity to comment. Karenne Wood, a member of the Monacan Nation, said she attended because she heard that Monacan Park—one of the more popular suggestions from the online survey—would be one of the names discussed, but she was unable to offer the tribe’s support of the name during the meeting.
Charlottesville resident Jalane Schmidt also wanted public comment and said she thought the suggestions offered at the meeting did not confront the history of each park.
“The recommendation of the [Blue Ribbon Commission], which the City Council did affirm, was that these parks were to be transformed,” Schmidt said, “and the full history…of how these spaces bolstered white supremacy was supposed to be revealed.”
Lisa Woolfork, another attendee, similarly called the selection process “tepid” and said it did nothing to recontextualize or challenge each park’s history.
“If all we might get is a renamed park, that name should be potent,” she said. “It should not be vague. It should not be general. I found this entire process frustrating and only in effect reinforcing the power dynamics that brought this problem to a head in the first place.”
Even with this process moving forward, there are those who still disagree with renaming the park. Historian and Charlottesville resident Arthur Herman says remembering the history of why the Confederate generals were commemorated in the first place is important.
“The sense of duty, the sense of honor, the courage, the sacrifice that they and other Confederate soldiers and veterans served were important virtues irrespective of the nature of the cause they served,” Herman says. “These men were not men who donned white sheets and marched with the KKK. These are not monuments dedicated to men like that.”
City Council will decide on the renaming of both parks at its June 5 meeting.