Published: 16 April 2014 10:43 PM
A dedication of the rebuilt Griggs Park in Uptown will focus on its new, 24-foot monument. An unveiling, tentatively set for June 7, will present words recalling the Rev. Allen R. Griggs.
It will be a time to officially recognize a man who advanced from slavery to become a leading black educator and minister, for whom the park was renamed 92 years ago.
The words etched in the monument’s steel will note that the park began as the Hall Street Negro Park, a creation that served African-American neighborhoods and, at the same time, preserved the city’s racial divide.
Long gone are the swimming pool and bath house, the playground and carnivals. Gone are the ballfields where the likes of baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks and lesser athletes performed.
The redevelopment of Griggs Park has brought a grassy meadow, lighting, walkways and trees — along with the monument — to 8 acres near North Central Expressway and Woodall Rodgers Freeway.
Funded with public and private money, the project has revived a public space in the State Thomas area, once a predominantly black neighborhood that has been reshaped by a mix of townhomes and apartments housing mostly white residents.
And it has aroused interest in other Dallas municipal parks and their past.
The Dallas-based Boone Family Foundation supported the Griggs Park makeover because of its concern for public green space. The story of the Rev. Griggs and the park’s history engaged foundation leaders. A Dallas Morning News story last year about the city’s former parks for black residents spurred them to action.
The foundation, together with the Fort Worth-based Rainwater Charitable Foundation, is providing $98,000 for historical markers at the city’s seven other former “Negro parks,” which were built for or used by black residents. The money will also go toward developing a website and teaching materials.
The News’ story “brought attention to a part of our history that most people weren’t aware of,” said Cynthia Yung, the Boone Family Foundation’s executive director.
She plans to present the project to the city’s Park and Recreation Board on Thursday. The board later will consider approving the placement of aluminum markers in the parks that helped keep Dallas racially segregated for years, beginning in 1915.
That was the year when the Hall Street Negro Park opened, along with the Oak Cliff Negro Park near Sabine and Cliff streets.
“They are the first public parks ever acquired for negroes in Dallas,” said a 1915 city report. “It is intended to make them attractive and inviting for the colored people.”
The Oak Cliff Negro Park was renamed in 1987 for Eloise Lundy, a longtime park department employee. Its marker will tell of that change.
The foundation grants also will fund markers for Juanita Craft Park (originally Wahoo Park), Wheatley Park (South Dallas Negro Park), Exline Park, William E. Blair Park (Rochester Park), Moore Park (Eighth Street Negro Park) and Nash/Davis Park (North Hampton Park).
While the city never officially made public spaces off-limits to anyone, its Negro parks eased the potential for conflict and gave black residents a place to gather.
By the early 1940s, such parks were not only separate but deemed clearly unequal to those for whites. Later, as the drive for integration and civil rights gained momentum nationwide, a push to improve the city’s minority parks slowly yielded positive changes.
Hoping to avoid the sorts of racial clashes erupting elsewhere, a committee of the city’s white business elite and black community leaders sought nonviolent approaches to desegregation. They targeted the Dallas school district and venues such as theaters, restaurants and parks.
“City Parks Integrated in Dallas,” reported a front-page headline in The Dallas Morning News of June 16, 1963.
Yung said she hoped the seven markers would be in place by autumn. At 36 inches by 18 inches, they won’t have the presence of the Griggs Park monument. And with a limit of 250 words or so, they won’t have space to more than skim the surface of a complex history.
The hope is that the complementary website and teaching materials can provide an opening toward richer truths.
The project is supposed to “talk about the real history of the parks,” Yung said.
To that end, the city park department asked the foundation to include at least an introductory sentence on each marker, linking the parks to the reality of their time.
“We want them to express the notion that these parks were used to accommodate segregation,” said Michael Hellmann, assistant park director.
With the Griggs Park monument, “the hope is people will read the words and get interested enough to do further study,” said Jack Irwin, a park neighbor and project leader.
“We certainly plan to make it clear that this was a place set aside and segregated for use by black families,” Irwin said.
“And we’re so pleased this has spurred interest in other black parks. It couldn’t have turned out better.”