Don’t for­get city park’s past

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE - Ray­mond D. Bahr, Bal­ti­more

I see that Pre­ston Gar­dens is to get a $6.75 mil­lion face lift (“$6.75 face lift planned for Pre­ston Gar­dens park in down­town Bal­ti­more,” Aug. 30). The Down­town Part­ner­ship would like this area cleaned up. Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake is ex­cited about in­no­va­tive ways to cre­ate and pre­serve green spa­ces within our city. It was noted that the renowned land­scape ar­chi­tect Frederick Law Olm­sted was in­volved when this city park was cre­ated in 1920. The Sun wrote a beau­ti­ful ar­ti­cle em­bel­lish­ing and bless­ing all of the above.

But that’s not the full story about Pre­ston Gar­dens.

In An­tero Pi­etila’s book, “Not in my Neigh­bor­hood,” the au­thor re­ported that Bal­ti­more Mayor James H. Pre­ston led a search for ad­di­tional seg­re­ga­tion tools af­ter he came to power in 1911. Amer­ica’s lo­cal gov­ern­ment had not yet widely dis­cov­ered con­dem­na­tion as a land-ac­qui­si­tion tool and none had used it to pur­sue racial goals. Mayor Pre­ston was a pi­o­neer on both counts. He presided over Bal­ti­more’s first gov­ern­ment-spon­sored African Amer­i­can re­moval project decades be­fore post-World War II ur­ban re­newal. His tar­get was the area north of the court­house and City Hall.

Three churches were de­mol­ished. A park was cre­ated in the mid­dle of the bi­fur­cated St. Paul Street. It was named af­ter Mayor Pre­ston. In 1917, when Pre­ston Gar­dens con­struc­tion was un­der way, he de­clared that health con­di­tions jus­ti­fied the seg­re­ga­tion and re­lo­ca­tion of blacks on a vaster scale. Mr. Pre­ston an­nounced that he would in­tro­duce an or­di­nance to com­pel blacks to have homes only in those seg­re­gated ar­eas. Blacks would be quar­an­tined as they “con­sti­tute a men­ace to the health of the white pop­u­la­tion.” This de­scrip­tion goes on for sev­eral pages in the book.

The black com­mu­nity suf­fered much un­der the time that this man was mayor and all of us should have known this his­tory — in­clud­ing The Sun. We won­der to­day what brought about our ghet­tos and the con­se­quences of liv­ing in these ghet­tos, but all we have to do is look at out past — and we need to find a way to make our past part of our liv­ing fu­ture.

We can start with Pre­ston Gar­dens by re­nam­ing it, pro­vid­ing a sanc­tu­ary within the area for re­flec­tion and hav­ing a mayor’s walk each spring so as to never for­get the sig­nif­i­cance of what hap­pened to cre­ate this patch of traffic me­dian.

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