Magruder Park sign is removed in anticipation of a new one honoring David C. Driskell. | Photo: City of Hyattsville

 

WILLIAM PINKNEY MAGRUDER PARK in Hyattsville, Md., will be renamed for artist and curator David C. Driskell (1931-2020). The renowned historian of African American art was a longtime resident of Hyattsville. The park was originally named for a wealthy white landowner who served as mayor of Hyattsville from 1909-1911. Magruder donated the park land to the city under the condition that its use be restricted to “Caucasian inhabitants only.”

The two-year renaming process included oversight by a designated city committee and public input that overwhelmingly favored giving the honor to Driskell. On May 3, the Hyattsville City Council passed a motion to change the name of the 32-acre site to David C. Driskell Community Park. A council resolution is required to officially rename the park. One is currently being drafted for the next council meeting on May 17.

In a statement, the city said the “Council selected the name of David C. Driskell Community Park to both honor an exemplary resident and better reflect the park’s current use as a welcoming community center.”

Daphne Driskell-Coles told Culture Type the tribute to her father is much appreciated. “The family of the late Dr. David C. Driskell is honored in knowing that the community has voted in the renaming of Magruder Park… after my father. …I know that I speak for the entire Driskell family in saying that we are excited and honored to see a change that will be for all of the people of this community as a whole,” she said by email.

The Hyattsville City “Council selected the name of David C. Driskell Community Park to both honor an exemplary resident and better reflect the park’s current use as a welcoming community center.”

Located just outside Washington, D.C., in Prince George’s County, the park has walking and biking trails, sports courts and fields, playgrounds, picnic pavilions, a swimming pool, and recreation center.

The new vision for the park has been underway since March 18, 2019, when Hyattsville Council Member Joseph Solomon, a candidate for mayor in today’s city election, introduced a motion to begin the name change. The motion, calling for the city government to conduct a feasibility study, was passed unanimously by the city council, and included a process for determining how to update the 1927 park deed by removing the racist, exclusionary, and outdated language.

A century ago, Hyattsville was segregated and mostly white. Today, it’s a diverse town with a prominent corridor reinvented over the past two decades as an arts hub, part of the Gateway Arts District that sits between Washington, D.C., and College Park, Md. The population of Hyattsville is about 37 percent Latino, 30 percent Black, and 30 percent white, according to the latest U.S. Census estimates.

 

DRISKELL MOVED TO HYATTSVILLE with his family in December 1976, after accepting a position at nearby University of Maryland (UMD), College Park. He lived in Hyattsville for more than four decades and was a professor of art at UMD for 21 years (1977-1998), serving as the first African American to chair the art department, from 1978 to 1983. He retired as a Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Art in 1998.

Three years later in 2001, the university established the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora. The center is a collecting institution that presents exhibitions and public programs and houses the Driskell archives.

In retirement, Driskell remained active as ever—lecturing and writing, traveling extensively, accepting awards and honors, showing up for exhibition openings of the artists and curators he trained and mentored, and also continuing his own artistic practice. He divided his time between Hyattsville, Falmouth, Maine, and New York City. Driskell died April 1, 2020, from complications due to COVID-19. He was 88.

“He was a nature lover who appreciated all that the landscape of the outdoors offered and represented. Many of his paintings captured the pine trees and the fish-filled brook that adorned his summer property in Maine and the flowers that decorated his front yard here in Hyattsville,” Driskell-Coles said.

“Just as human beings are a part of nature, I can envision a change of creative impact coming to the park that will not only have my father’s name but it will have his love, appreciation and respect of nature depicted throughout.”

“Just as human beings are a part of nature, I can envision a change of creative impact coming to the park that will not only have my father’s name but it will have his love, appreciation and respect of nature depicted throughout.” — Daphne Driskell-Coles


David C. Driskell, Hyattsville, Md., 2011. | Courtesy DC Moore Gallery

 

THE CITY OF HYATTSVILLE opened the Magruder Park renaming process to the public, welcoming suggestions from the community. More than 830 proposals were received via an online survey, a dedicated phone line, mail-in postcards, and a suggestion box located in the park. The deadline was Nov. 15, 2020. The list of submissions included the names of cultural and and political figures, and terms associated with social justice and community unity.

Among the most popular choices, were more than 60 versions of Hyattsville Park, including Hyattsville Community Park, Hyattsville City Park, and Hyattsville Central Park. Hamilton Park, given the park is located on Hamilton Street, was suggested 11 times. More than 40 submissions lobbied to keep the Magruder name.

Names with national profiles and local roots were on the list. There were 38 suggestions for the park to be named for Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets and a University of Maryland alum. Muppet Park, Kermit Park, and Rainbow Connection Park were also among the ideas submitted. Two submissions favored Aaron McGruder, the artist and creator of the comic strip and animated TV series The Boondocks, who also graduated from UMD.

Other local figures were proposed, too. Suggestions included Adam Francis Plummer (1819-1905), an industrious landowner who kept a detailed diary and brought his family back together on the property where he had been enslaved; beloved UMD basketball star Len Bias (1963-1986); Morgan Wootten, basketball coach at DeMatha Catholic High School for 46 seasons (1931-2020); Fire Chief Emeritus Donald “Doc” Moltrup, who served for 35 years; and former Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth, who became the first Black woman to hold the office after being elected in 2015.

Well-known historic figures including Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., Shirley Chisholm, and Maya Angelou were suggested. More recent political and government figures were also in the mix. Ruth Bader Ginsburg received 10 submissions. Seven floated President Obama and/or First Lady Michelle Obama. There were six preferences for Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings. John Lewis, the Georgia Congressman and civil rights legend who died last year, made the list, along with his famous phrase “Good Trouble.” Three people suggested the park be named for Donald Trump. Make America Great Again was also proposed.

Names such as Black Lives Matter Park, Breonna Taylor Park, and George Floyd Park were pitched. Angela Davis was mentioned. Many suggestions included versions of Indigenous Peoples, All Peoples, People’s, Citizens, Solidarity, Friendship, Hope, Freedom, Justice, Peace, Inspiration, Unity, and Community Park. Variations of Suffragette Park were also among the names suggested.

 

NUMEROUS OPTIONS WERE SUBMITTED, many proposed multiple times. Driskell garnered the most interest with more than 230 submissions suggesting the park be renamed in his honor. Most of the proposals included a brief explanation about the choice. Selected comments (unedited) included:

  • David Driskell is a famous black artist and was a prominent leader in the community and on a national level. He owns a historic home in the Hyattsville community. It would be a honor to name magruder park after David Driskell
  • Check his resume. Stand up guy for his family.. Community.. And the blk American culture as well
  • Dr. Driskell’s family still lives in the area within walking distance. He has enriched his community with art and philanthropy. He deserves a memorable place in our community.
  • For papa!
  • Its a great name and a great way to honor my friends grandfather.
  • David Driskell’s impact upon the art world is immense, and as a fellow Howard grad/art student I think it would be beautiful to have the park named not only after such a pivotal artist but one who has helped paved the way for many Black artists after him.
  • There was a time when this park didn’t accept Black people. There is no better one to honor the legacy of a loyal Hyattsville citizen and pioneer of art than the late David Driskell.

Numerous options were submitted, many proposed multiple times. David Driskell garnered the most interest with more than 230 submissions suggesting the park be renamed in his honor.

A joint committee of the city’s Race and Equity Task Force and Health, Wellness, and Recreation Advisory Committee oversaw the renaming process, reviewed the submissions, and honed the list down to five options in a memo provided to the city council on March 15.

The primary recommendations were David C. Driskell Community Park, Unity Community Park, Gateway Community Park, Inspiration Park, and Nacotchtank Community Park, to “memorialize the Native people who lived, raised families, prospered, and died on this land.” One secondary name was also submitted, “Community Park,” a name that indicates “everyone is welcome.”

A public hearing on April 5 provided a forum for community feedback on the final suggestions under consideration. Last week, the council took a vote and chose Driskell.

Kevin Ward, Interim Mayor of Hyattsville, said “renaming the park as David C. Driskell Community Park adds a new chapter to the park’s storied history, one that we believe embraces some of Hyattsville’s core values of inclusivity, neighborly care, and appreciation of the arts.”

Ward added that the “Council understands removing the racist language from the deed and renaming the park is not a cure-all to address issues of race and inequity in the City, but we feel it is a step in the right direction.” CT

 

FIND MORE Coverage from Route 1 Reporter details the May 3 vote by the Hyattsville City Council

FIND MORE “David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History,” the first major solo museum exhibition of Driskell’s career, surveying his practice from the 1950s to 2000s, closed Sunday at the High Museum and travels next to the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, where it opens June 19.

 

READ MORE on Culture Type about David C. Driskell in memorial tributes from artists, curators, and scholars; his survey exhibition “David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History”; and a recent HBO documentary anchored by “Two Centuries of Black American Art,” the exhibition Driskell organized just before he moved to Hyattsville

 

BOOKSHELF
“David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History” coincides with the exhibition of the same name, the largest solo museum exhibition of the artist’s career. “David C. Driskell: Artist and Scholar” by Julie McGee documents the life and work of David C. Driskell. “Two Centuries of Black American Art” accompanied with the landmark exhibition guest curated by Driskell in 1976 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Driskell co-authored the exhibition catalog “Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America.” These volumes consider David Driskell’s artistic practice: “Creative Spirit: The Art of David C. Driskell,” “David Driskell Painting Across the Decade 1996-2006,” and “Evolution: Five Decades of Printmaking by David C. Driskell” by Adrienne Childs with contributions by Ruth Fine, Deborah Willis, and Julie McGee. Driskell documents his own art collection in “Narratives of African American Art and Identity: The David C. Driskell Collection.”

 

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