As potential legal obstacles come into focus, Hyattsville City Council unanimously voted to explore its options to rename Magruder Park. Critics of the name say William Pinkney Magruder’s inclusion of racially-restrictive covenants in granting the park to public use disqualify him from being the park’s namesake.
The measure was spearheaded by Ward Five Councilor Joseph Solomon. It had undergone significant amendments since its March 4 introduction, gaining the cosponsorship of the entire City Council at its March 18, 2019, meeting. The amended motion shifted some of the deliberative burden – such as suggestion of alternate names – away from city staff officials and onto the City Council. According to the measure, the city administrator and attorney will have 120 days produce a report on the legal feasibility of both changing the name of the park and modifying the deed to excise the racially-restrictive covenant. At that point, it’s in Council’s hands to determine a way forward. This task, then, will fall to the next Hyattsville City Council to finish.
“These particular actions have the potential to be quite contentious and controversial. I would prefer for the recommendations and the actions to be driven by the city council to protect staff from those types of – from people saying that the city administrator wants to do this, this or this,” said Mayor Candace Hollingsworth during a brief discussion of the measure.
“It’s not the intent that the city places itself inside of a role where they are making a decision for Council,” replied Solomon. “I do think it’s appropriate that when the information comes back to us, that we understand what options are available to the city to develop a process.”
The measure budgets $10,000 for the task.
Inaccurate listserv post raises legitimate issues around name change
Over the weekend, many Hyattsville residents learned of major potential legal obstacles to the renaming of Magruder Park. Unfortunately, they learned of this through a meandering, at times historically dubious, memoir of the Magruder family’s history of philanthropy in Prince George’s County, courtesy of life-long Hyattsvillager and perennial local political gadfly Doug Dudrow.
Broadly, Dudrow’s message detailed the history of the Magruder Family Trust’s donations to Prince George’s County’s various institutions. That the Magruder family donated lots of land to the county – such as the site of Prince George’s Hospital – is well known. Dudrow gets some details wrong, according to Stuart Eisenberg, executive director of the Hyattsville Community Development Corp. and is also leading an effort to map racially-restrictive deed covenants in Hyattsville. Dudrow said in his message Magruder Park was deeded to the city in 1939 after WP Magruder died. In fact, Magruder deeded it in 1927, though a stone plaque was erected at Magruder Park after WP Magruder’s death. Further Dudrow asserts there is a deed prohibition on alcohol in the park. Eisenberg, who has examined the deed, says no such clause exists.
Further, Dudrow asserts in his message that the city of Hyattsville and the Magruder Family Trust petitioned Prince George’s County Circuit Court to remove the racially restrictive deed covenant sometime in the 1950s. If such a modification exists, Eisenberg has yet to uncover it.
“Often, when a revisory deed is filed, there is a notation made on the recorded deed itself that refers to the revision,” wrote Eisenberg in an email. “There appears to be no revisory notation on the recorded deed in the electronic storage. I may have to look in the books myself.”
However, Dudrow may be on the money when it comes to the legal risks posed by changing the name without a full legal assessment of such a move. In his message, Dudrow asserts changing the name of the park may require the consent of the Magruder Family Trust or else it would violate the still-enforceable covenants of the original donation. What could happen then? Oh: just all the property reverts back to the ownership of Magruder’s heirs. NBD, right?
“Doug has this right. This is in fact highly probable, if not a certainty,” writes Eisenberg. “It has to do with the land grant which stipulates that the land has to be called William Pinkney Magruder Park. That’s why several people, when consulted, advised Joseph [Solomon] to not attempt to do this without having the City Attorney research the issue.”
Lastly, Dudrow also asserted that segregation in the park was not enforced, at least not according to the memories of anyone he’s ever talked to. Eisenberg has not yet encountered documentary evidence on police activity to enforce segregation at Magruder Park, but he notes that the city would have had legal standing to enforce segregation in the park until at least 1949, when a Supreme Court decision rendered restrictive deed clauses unenforceable. Further, he noted there is “ample” evidence the city’s 1913 segregation ordinance was enforced until a 1917 Supreme Court decision said segregation ordinances violated the 14th amendment.