Acknowledging past transgressions that were committed by Anne Arundel County government, and that permanently disrupted the tight-knit community of African American families living along Clay Street in downtown Annapolis, County Executive Steuart Pittman officially renamed Whitmore Park “The People’s Park” yesterday and dedicated the site to the people of the old fourth ward.
The “Old Fourth,” once bordered by Washington, Calvert and Clay streets, fell victim to an urban renewal push during the 1960s when land acquisitions by the county and seizures through eminent domain, paved the way for the construction of the Whitmore Garage to provide parking for county employees.
“As was the case with much of what has occurred in the county before, during, and since the years of the Civil Rights movement, the loss of the Old Fourth Ward was rooted in racism,” said County Executive Pittman. “In Anne Arundel County and elsewhere throughout the country, the social and emotional cost of urban renewal has been paid by African American people.”
The federal policy of urban renewal established by the Housing Act of 1949 and lasting through the 1950s and 1960s, had devastating consequences nationwide — including the displacement of more than a million people from their homes. It was during this period that black Annapolitans first began using the term “urban removal” to describe what was happening to their neighborhoods.
“I consider today a minor miracle that I can be here to witness an event that reflects the hard work of so many people and marks the history of the vibrant community of people who once lived here,” said Rec & Parks Director Rick Anthony.
The decision to rename Whitmore The People’s Park is the result of a robust public planning process in which many past and present community leaders and other stakeholders participated to “Re-imagine Whitmore.”
Local historian Janice Hayes-Williams, along with former County Councilman Chris Trumbauer and Mr. Anthony worked to enable the park to receive a facelift in 2017. In 2011, former County Executive John Leopold introduced a resolution to the County Council to surplus the property ostensibly because the park was a drain on county resources. In fact, he wanted to make the land available to developers.
Together Trumbauer and Hayes-Williams were able to bring a halt to Leopold’s plan. The following year, Hayes-Williams convened members of the community to begin discussions on the creation of a blueprint that would serve as a guide to the park’s earliest renovations.