Examining the Black History within Atlanta’s Parks

Local parks are a link to the past. How/where a park came to be and for whom the park was named and built are details that inform our current reality.

During Black History Month, we encourage you to visit and learn about greenspaces that have played significant roles in (or tell the stories of!) the African-American histories that have shaped Atlanta.

 

This list below contains just a few of our local parks that have a significant role in Black History. Do you see a park missing from this list? Tell us about it! Email details to rachel@parkpride.org.

Washington Park

Plan a Visit
1125 Lena St NW
Atlanta, GA 30314

History:

At the time of its development in 1919, Washington Park on Atlanta’s Westside was the first and only park in the city designated for African-Americans. When Martin Luther King, Jr. visited a park, Washington Park would have been the only public greenspace available to him, his family, and his friends.

Washington Park celebrated its centennial anniversary in 2019, marking 100 years of inviting community gatherings, providing a safe place for kids to play, and providing an opportunity to enjoy access to nature.

Located on the northern end of the Atlanta BeltLine Westside Trail, visitors to Washington Park can enjoy the natatorium, playing tennis, a playground, and pavilions and grills for picnics.

Learn more about this historic greenspace from the Conservancy at Historic Washington Park.

 

Washington Park History

 

Mattie Freeland Park

Plan a Visit: 
Under construction!

History:

Despite being less than a mile from downtown, the English Avenue neighborhood on Atlanta’s Westside has suffered from decades of disinvestment and numerous impacts related to systemic poverty and neglect.

Ms. Mattie Freeland

Ms. Mattie Freeland lived across from a lot filled with abandoned vehicles—an eye sore, an environmental nuisance, an economic hinderance, and a physical danger to the children of the neighborhood. She dreamed of one day turning this into a clean, safe, beautiful space for the community to gather, grow food, and play.

Since Ms. Mattie’s death in 2008, neighbors have worked together to build a community garden and a small greenspace, naming it after their beloved matriarch. Working with partners like Park Pride, The Conservation Fund, and the Department of Parks and Recreation, the community has been successful in making the Mattie Freeland Greenspace an official City of Atlanta Park.

Currently, the park is an active construction site with a ribbon cutting planned for Fall 2021! With a level multi-use playing field, a picnic and grilling area, and a community-led art installation, the neighborhood is about to have an official park that serves the needs of the community and represents Ms. Mattie’s legacy!

 

Mattie Freeland Park

 

Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park

Plan a Visit: 
870 Proctor St NW
Atlanta, GA 30314

History:

The Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park in English Avenue was celebrated with a ribbon cutting in 2019.

Though a major feature of the park is the role it will play in mitigating the flooding in the neighborhood from stormwater runoff, the significance of the park goes beyond the physical improvements to infrastructure.

On November 21, 2006, Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old grandmother, was tragically killed by members of the Atlanta Police Department who executed an illegal “no knock warrant” to her home on Neal Street, just one block away from the park that now bears her name. Johnston’s sacrifice, which resulted in the repeal of a law that allowed for the arrest of any citizen without “probable cause,” will be memorialized within Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park and will serve as a constant reminder of the ongoing efforts to ensure that Atlantans not only remember her contributions to her community, but also continue to work towards the prevention of future tragedies.

“Kathryn Johnson was known by many as “Mother,” and even though she never bared children, it was her nurturing spirit and courage that inspired a community,” said District 3 Council Member, Antonio Brown, at the 2019 ribbon cutting.

Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park will serve as a valuable amenity to the community, providing residents of English Avenue with a place to relax, exercise, play with their families, and meet their neighbors. The park will also restore natural habitat and increase the health of the neighborhood’s biodiversity.

 

Naming of Kathryn Johnston Memorial Park

 

Jennie Drake Park

Plan a Visit:
Waterford Rd NW
Atlanta, GA 30318

History:

Jennie Drake Park is a 4-acre natural, passive greenspace nestled within the historic and iconic African-American neighborhood of Collier Heights in Northwest Atlanta. Collier Heights, home to such prominent Black families such as the Kings, Hollowells, and Abernathys, was also home to Atlanta native Jennie Drake, who fought against the development of the park which now bares her name.

Read more about the rich history of Collier Heights from Atlanta Magazine and enjoy a stroll through Jennie Drake Park’s meandering and peaceful pathways.

 

A Separate Peace: Collier Heights

 

Jennie Drake Park

 

Oakland Cemetery

Plan a Visit:
248 Oakland Ave SE
Atlanta, GA 30312

History:

Oakland Cemetery is another City of Atlanta park with a history deeply rooted to the African-American community.

From the Historic Oakland Foundation’s blog, beginning in 1852 and through the late 1860s, African Americans in Atlanta were buried in a segregated section of the cemetery. Most, though not all, of the individuals buried in this northeast corner of the cemetery were enslaved, and it came to be known as Slave Square. Panels on site hold the names of the men, women, and children who were buried here.

Learn more about the history of Slave Square in advance of your visit to Oakland Cemetery.

 

Slave Square

 

Art on the Eastside BeltLine Trail

Plan a Visit: 
Eastside BeltLine Trail

Exhibit:

Along the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, a beautiful photography project by visual storyteller and educator, Johnny Crawford, called “Vietnam Black Soldier Portrait Project” shares the stories of Black soldiers. Read the artist’s statement below and plan a visit:

These portraits are frozen moments in history that portray Black soldiers as caring and patriotic Americans. This project puts human faces on historical events and shows the medical needs of Americans. Using black and white photography paired with strong emotions and intense eyes, this work seeks to show integrity, courage, loyalty, patriotism, wisdom, empathy, and humility.

 

Learn More

 

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