IF YOU GO
What: The Lincoln Park community will host its first community reunion
When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 31.
Where: Lincoln Park
More information: Call 266-2567
Seventy-five-year-old Verniece Hughley can recall how Lincoln Park covered acres of land near Erlanger hospital and was the site of Negro league baseball games featuring players like Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson. She remembers the monkeys and the one bear that made up the Lincoln Park Zoo and an Olympic-size pool that drew swimmers from throughout the region.
"This was our thing," said Hughley recalling Lincoln Park in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. "It belonged to us."
Hughley and other residents are hosting a Lincoln Park reunion from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 31 to bring former and current residents together and to impart their community pride to younger generations.
Hughley and several supporters started planning the reunion this year after seeing the need to share their knowledge of Lincoln Park with younger people. It was mostly older women, the remnant of Lincoln Park residents, who first objected when city officials talked about building a Central Avenue road extension through the community.
Some residents were concerned that the extension would direct large trucks and heavy traffic through a portion of the park that is left. Other residents also wanted to make sure that no road extension would take their homes or drive down their property values.
Lincoln Park, which includes a residential area and a park, has lost more than half of the community to encroachment by the railroad and Erlanger hospital, Hughley said.
She said the park is so dear to her because it was the only park in the city where blacks could go during segregation. It was the only place that had an Olympic-sized pool for blacks. People of color were only allowed at Warner Park during the fair, and when the fair ended, they had to leave, too, she recalled.
"People don't want to talk about it, but you haven't forgotten it," she said.
But Lincoln Park was the place blacks could go without restriction. The park thrived in the 1930s and '40s. It started to decline in the late 1950s with the start of integration, she said. As people had the option to go other places, fewer people came to Lincoln Park, said Hughley.
Under Mayor Andy Berke's administration city officials have agreed not to break ground on the Central Avenue extension before speaking with residents.
The city's 2014 budget allocated $200,000 for the Central Avenue extension. Jeff Cannon, the mayor's deputy chief of staff, said that is federal and state money and that the administration has not moved beyond Berke's pledge.
The state Department of Transportation has drawn 30 potential routes for the Central Avenue Road Extension. City officials say those options will be narrowed down and presented in October.
At least one route for the Central Avenue extension presented to residents during Mayor Ron Littlefield's administration proposed a road going through the park and Blackford Street. But Berke's administration vowed that no portion of the park or any house in Lincoln Park would be sacrificed because of the extension.
Said City Councilman Moses Freeman, who represents the neighborhood, "We're working to make sure the neighborhood is satisfied, that the extension does not take place through the park and that it is not done in any way that would upset the neighborhood. We want to make sure we get their input."
Hughley says the park is historical and she wants to make sure its history is preserved.
There is a plaque in the park saying this park was dedicated in 1918 to the African-Americans, she said.
"These young people have no idea," said Hughley. "We could go to the park and play all day long. Every weekend it was something."
Contact Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or call 423-757-6431.
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...