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A split Hyattsville City Council appears poised to rename Magruder Park after renowned African American artist David Driskell, with the deciding vote likely to come at its May 3, 2021, Council meeting. Driskell’s name rose to the top of Hyattsville City Council’s preference list during its April 19, 2021, meeting following a ranked-choice straw poll of City Council’s 10 members. Driskell’s name narrowly edged out an alternate suggestion to rename the park after the Nacotchtank indigenous people who lived in the Anacostia River valley during the early days of European colonization.
With the possibility that a special election could be needed to fill City Councilor Joseph Solomon’s Ward Five seat or interim Mayor and Ward One Councilor Kevin Ward’s seats if one of them wins their three-way race for mayor, a last-minute suggestion by Solomon and Haba to put the renaming decision before city voters was rejected by City Council.
“I don’t think we should kick the can down the road any further,” said Councilor Robert Croslin during the meeting. “I don’t think we need to push it down to the next council or anything like that. This happened during this Council’s term and we should resolve it.”
Calls to rename the park date to late 2018 after it was rediscovered that the park’s namesake, prominent early 20th century Prince George’s County politician and landowner William Pinkney Magruder, donated much of what is now Magruder Park with a deed clause banning people of color from the park.
Driskell, a longtime Hyattsville resident and a professor of art at the University of Maryland, died in 2020 from complications caused by Covid. An African American, he was a pioneering force in the study of African American art. His death was national news, and his profile was elevated by an HBO documentary released in 2021.
Magruder was born in 1858 to a prominent slave-holding family that saw its fortunes diminish after the Civil War. By the 1920s, he had risen to the heights of Prince George’s County politics and was Mayor of Hyattsville from 1909 to 1911. He was active in local politics during the height of the Jim Crow era. Racially-restrictive covenants began to proliferate in the city’s property deeds in the 1920s after Otway Zantzinger began to sell land in a large section of Hyattsville Hills with such clauses inserted. Racially-restrictive deed clauses are currently unenforceable due to a 1948 Supreme Court ruling.
The renaming of the park follows related efforts by the city to revise the deed underlying the park to remove the racially restrictive language.
During Hyattsville’s April 19, 2021, meeting, City Council members were asked to rank their top-three preferences for renaming the park. Under rules proposed by City Councilor Ben Simasek, each Councilor’s top choice received three points, then two for the second choice, and one for the third preference. In the end, five City Council members – City Councilors Croslin, Erica Spell-Wolf, Danny Schaible and interim Mayor Kevin Ward – indicated Driskell as their top choice to rename the park. Councilor Carrianna Suiter said Driskell was her second preference, giving the option 17 points. The closest-runner up was the Nacotchtank suggestion, which received top billing from Councilors Bart Lawrence and Suiter, second billing from Simasek, Croslin, Spell-Wolf and Schaible, and third-billing from Haba.
Other options – Inspiration Park, Gateway Park and Unity Park – received much less support. City Councilor Joseph Solomon said Inspiration park was his first choice, the only one to rank it so highly. Likewise, Unity park received a lone first-preference from Haba. And no one thought Gateway Park was a first-preference name.