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After a public hearing that saw dozens of city residents weigh in, Hyattsville City Council continues to be split over what to rename Magruder Park. Two options, however, have seemingly won the most vocal support from public commenters and City Council members – naming the park after either David C. Driskell or the Nacotchtank indigenous people who once inhabited the Anacostia River basin.
During an April 5, 2021 public hearing before Hyattsville City Council’s regularly-scheduled meeting, residents overwhelmingly supported renaming the park. Five suggestions have been put to Hyattsville City Council by city committees tasked with generating recommendations.
The other suggested names call for the park to be renamed “Unity,” “Inspiration” or “Gateway” park.
Hyattsville City Council has been weighing the possible renaming of Magruder Park since 2018. The motivation for changing the name of the park comes from its namesake, prominent early 20-century Prince George’s landowner and politician William Pinkney Magruder. He donated some of the land that now makes up the park with a clause restricting its use “for the Caucasian inhabitants only” of Hyattsville.
The most-common suggestion from residents was for the park to be renamed after artist and former city resident David C. Driskell, a prominent African American artist who studied African American art and whose death from Covid in 2020 was national news. But many residents also said they supported the Nacotchtank name suggestion.
David Errick Driskell, grandson of David C. Driskell, thanked Hyattsville for considering his grandfather as the park’s namesake.
“My grandfather was a great arts historian. He loved the city of Hyattsville and the people of Hyattsville,” said the younger Driskell. “It would be a great tribute not just to the family, but to everyone in the city of Hyattsville for the hard work that everyone does.”
Hyattsville resident Timothy Zork said he preferred the Nacotchtank name, followed by the proposed “Unity” park name.
“Renaming the park can’t erase the past discrimination nor resolve the many systemic barriers supporting white supremacy, but the names and symbols we choose for our shared community space call us to be accountable,” said Zork in a written comment read into the record by the city clerk.
One resident, former Hyattsville City Councilor Chris Currie, said the park should not be renamed. Instead, he suggested David C. Driskell be honored by renaming Hyattsville’s Centennial Park on Baltimore Avenue after him.
“Let’s honor [Driskell] by renaming another park at the center of our Arts District and leave the name for Magruder Park as it is, or put it up to a referendum,” said Currie.
Currie also advanced arguments that there was no proof Magruder agreed to the segregationist clauses included in the deed of his parkland donation, and asserted that the Ku Klux Klan – which was active in Hyattsville during the era Magruder donated the parkland – quickly lost influence in the city after the 1920s.
Director of the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation Stuart Eisenberg, whose historical research into the deeds underlying Magruder Park has heavily influenced City Council’s deliberations on the renaming, pushed back on Curries arguments to some degree. Eisenberg also said he supported the Driskell renaming.
“It was not definitively determined if it was City Council or the City Council and the developer who developed that deed. It was likely City Council because they were appointed to do so,” said Eisenberg, who also noted that Magruder would have had to sign off on the deed transfer and its segregationist clauses regardless. “It is important to note that the Ku Klux Klan’s influence on Hyattsville remained for many years after 1927 and the development of the park…well into the 1940s in Hyattsville policymaking.”
After the public hearing, Hyattsville City Council discussed further discussed the matter during its regular meeting. If you were hoping to hear from City Council members who so far have been silent on the issue, you were disappointed. Only five of Hyattsville’s 10 City Council members commented during the discussion, and each had already made their positions clear in March meetings. At least among those five, the choices seem to be split clearly between Driskell and Nacotchtank options. Similar to last time, those in favor of Nacotchtank park harbor apprehensions about naming the park after any recently-deceased individual. Those in favor of Driskell point to the community support for the option, plus his stature within the arts community.
Hyattsville City Councilors Bart Lawrence and Edouard Haba indicated support for the Nacotchtank name. Hyattsville City Councilors Robert Croslin, Daniel Schaible, and Ben Simasek all indicated a preference for the Driskell name. The biggest wildcard is Councilor Joseph Solomon, who is also running for mayor. In comments, Solomon questioned the appropriateness of any of the five suggested names, and said the park should celebrate “everyone’s unique accomplishments.” Solomon did, however, indicate reluctance to rename the park after a person.
Schaible said concerns about the long-term appropriateness of naming the park after Driskell were overblown.
“I don’t think we need to be bogged down in the details of what-if or what may be discovered,” said Schaible. “I am in support of Driskell Park. I wouldn’t feel the burden of so many of these things that have been expressed by members of Council.”
Haba, as in the previous discussion, said he wanted a name that would have meaning for ages.
“I prefer something not named after a person,” said Haba. “There are other venues we can consider. But we want to do something that will stand the test of time.”
An attempt by Interim Mayor and Ward One City Councilor Kevin Ward, also running for mayor, to conduct a straw poll of City Council on their preferences did not go forward. Instead, City Council members will continue to consider their options before the matter returns to the dais at Hyattsville’s April 19, 2021 Council meeting.
City Council candidates weigh in
Two prospective City Council members also shared their preferences for the park rename. Ward One hopeful Michael Brown said he supported renaming the park after Driskell, arguing in part that the name could bring prestige to the city and – somehow – also impact infrastructure development.
“If you think about it, most airports in most cities that receive funding are always because they have a location or place that is named after a prominent member of their community,” said Brown. “I feel that bringing his name back home will bring funding and could really help out with infrastructure development in Hyattsville and could help us be number one.”
Later in the meeting, Brown’s comments drew a confused reaction from Lawrence, who currently represents Ward One. Lawrence is not running for re-election. Brown would win Lawrence’s seat if elected.
“It was also suggested that renaming it after Mr. Driskell would secure some exterior funding, and I don’t know how that would work,” said Lawrence.
Ward Three candidate Jimmy McClellan said he supported the Nacotchtank name, saying it would be a reminder of an overlooked epoch in the history of the land we today call Hyattsville.
“I have thought about how it can inspire conversations, question what it means, and learn more about native history,” said McClellan.
Correction: This story has been edited from its original version to note Lawrence is not running for re-election, and that Brown will win Lawrence’s seat if he wins his election. The original article said Lawrence and Brown would be co-representatives if Brown wins his election.