Public park between two HBCUs gets proposed renaming

Cyril Josh Barker | 6/7/2018, 11:22 a.m.
A petition to rename a park that sits between two historically Black colleges after civil rights leader Malcolm X is ...
Hadley Park in Nashville, Tenn. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee photo

A petition to rename a park that sits between two historically Black colleges after civil rights leader Malcolm X is gaining momentum.

Reports indicate that residents and students in Nashville want to rename Hadley Park, which is between Fisk University and Tennessee State University. The park currently bears the name of John L. Hadley, who was a plantation and slave owner, which many say is offensive.

History indicates that when Hadley Park opened in 1912, it was one of the first parks in the nation purchased by a city that could only be used by Blacks. However, organizers say the park’s current name is an insult and a haunting reminder to Black residents.

“The main occupants of this park are predominantly Black, and it’s beyond embarrassing and degrading for Black people to have to socialize in a park in their neighborhood that is named after a man that owned and abused their ancestors,” organizers said on a petition on Change.org.

Adding further insult, the park features columns bearing the names of Black soldiers who died in World War I.

Today, Hadley Park is home to a community center, an indoor swimming pool, a gymnasium and a fitness center. The park also has youth programs and is used by Girl Scout and Cub Scout troops. Several cultural events take place in the park, including Nashville’s African Street Festival.

However, most residents who use the space that’s been a gathering place for Black Nashvillians for more than a century don’t know the source of the park’s name.

“I felt offended, disrespected and humiliated,” said Joshua Lipscomb, who started the petition. “It was like a slight that in 2018 we are still living and socializing here and no one knows.”

Hadley Park plays a significant role for students at Tennessee State University and Fisk University. The park serves as an unofficial pathway between the two institutions. Students also volunteer at the park with community service programs.

The spot is also notable for a speech abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave to freed slaves in 1873, before the city made it into a park almost 40 years later.

Changing the name of the Hadley Park could get pushback. Nashville’s Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation policy manual says that park names can’t be changed.

Lipscomb hopes that his petition can urge city leaders to rename the park after Malcolm X. As of Tuesday, he had 470 signatures.

“Right now we want to send a message to all throughout the community of standing up against injustice,” Lipscomb said to local media. “I think the message of replacing a slave owner with a peace soldier like Malcolm X just sends a great message to the youth of any race, and it speaks for change, and I think that’s what Nashville needs right now.”