HYATTSVILLE — The Hyattsville City Council considered a motion to change the name of Magruder Park due to the racist past of its namesake, William Pinkney Magruder, at their last meeting on March 4.
The motion was introduced by City Councilmember Joseph Solomon (Ward 5) and is co-sponsored by six other council members; Robert Croslin, Erica Spell, Thomas Wright, Edouard Haba, Kevin Ward and Carrianna Suiter. It is listed for action at the council’s next meeting.
“When the park was donated to the city, the deed included language that articulated Magruder’s desire to only donate the park for the enjoyment of the city’s Caucasian residents,” Solomon said.
“And I think that, we as a council, have worked very diligently on demonstrating that we are a welcoming community with our passage of sanctuary cities, our human rights center and I think that this is an appropriate time to consider what name we would choose to be a standard bearer for our largest park.”
Magruder was a public official in Hyattsville who lived during the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was a private landowner and benefactor to the City of Hyattsville and Prince George’s County. During that time ,he pursued a segregationist agenda ,contributing to a locally driven systemic attempt to prevent non-white people from owning homes and enjoying the pleasantries of a municipal park.
According to the council, his deed to the park said in part “In trust nevertheless to hold said land as a public recreation park and playground to be known as William Pinkney Magruder, for the Caucasian inhabitants only of the said town of Hyattsville…to issue permits permitting persons of the Caucasian race, not inhabitants of said town.”
“The language is part of a greater context of how in the post-civil war era many cities and towns, especially here in Prince George’s County, used the deed covenants to keep African Americans out of their communities and out of their neighborhood parks,” Solomon said.
Solomon and his co-sponsors moved that the city attorney investigate the feasibility of changing the name of the park without having to revert ownership back to the Magruder family or the Magruder estate as well as the possibility of updating the park deed to exclude the offensive language and report back to the council.
Should the investigation go well and the council approve the actions, the city will enlist the help of the community in finding a different name for the park. The plan would be for a community-wide name search to go on between 90 and 120 days where all Hyattsville residents, community-based organizations and Council Advisory Committees will be able to participate.
According to Solomon, the community has been quite supportive of the effort to change the name as the council has received a letter of support from the Hyattsville Preservation Association as well as emails from residents who support the effort.
Ashley Layne, who is new to the Hyattsville area, was not aware of the background of the park and said that from what she has seen most of the people that come are African American so “it should be open to everyone.”
“It would be a good idea to change the name,” said Tiffany Palmer who also lives in the area. “It could recreate something new for the area so it won’t carry that history.”
However, there are members of the community who disagree with the name change and think that Magruder’s charitable contributions should be taken into consideration in addition to the language.
“I don’t think you’ll ever get unanimous consent when trying to reconcile with a history that’s such an issue with racism and segregation, but I think to that extent we have to ask ourselves would Magruder be unhappy with how the park is utilized now,” Solomon said.
Back when Magruder Park was established, this type of restrictive, racial language inside of park deeds and more was an attempt to send a message to African Americans that they were not welcome.
But, Solomon said, they fought to preserve the union with Abraham Lincoln and many of them left plantations that were here in Prince George’s County to be free, and their ancestors deserve to use the park as much as anyone else.
“As a result of this valor and courage and willingness to step forward and willingness to choose freedom and opportunity for a better future, not just for themselves but for their country, their welcome back were these restrictive elements,” Solomon said. “So I think this begins to rewrite history to say that all people are welcome in Hyattsville and we will go back to have an opportunity to go back and correct some of the ill wills of our racial past.”