A celebration for ‘our beloved community’

Community leaders dedicate new civil-rights themed park in Kingfield

Credit: Photos by Margie O'Loughlin

“Beloved community” is a phrase used by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to describe a global vision of peace and equality. When he led the historic 1963 march on Washington D.C., a quarter of a million people came out in support of the civil rights movement and King’s dream of freedom for all.

More than five decades later, the marching hasn’t stopped and the fight for King’s vision forges on. The community celebrated King’s legacy with the dedication of a new civil rights-themed park Saturday in Kingfield at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, 4055 Nicollet Ave.

Festivities began with a rally 10:30 a.m. at Sabathani Community Center and then people marched to the park for a dedication ceremony and to share stories about ongoing struggles in the civil rights movement. The event was co-sponsored by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park Legacy Council.

It was significant because it ushered in a new era for the neighborhood park, and for the neighborhood residents who worked so hard to bring about positive change. According to Sandra Richardson, co-chair of the Legacy Council, “getting here has not been easy.”

Rewind to the turbulent year of 1968. Following King’s assassination, the Minneapolis Chapter of the NAACP petitioned the MPRB to rename what was then called Nicollet Field to Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The park board voted unanimously to do so; the park was renovated and re-dedicated two years later.

Over time it deteriotated and by this decade, there was nothing left to trace the legacy of MLK, other than the weathered park sign that bore his name.

In 2010, tempers flared when a proposal was made to install an off-leash dog park on-site.

“Opinions ran almost completely along racial lines, with Caucasian neighbors wanting the dog park and African American neighbors opposing it,” Richardson said. “It was a very painful experience, but it did raise the question of separation between races in a way we couldn’t deny. We did a lot of work around that, and I believe we’re in a healthier, more honest space now.”

The Legacy Council was formed as a result of the conflict. Six months of listening sessions followed, where neighbors, especially African American elders, reflected on their personal experiences during the civil rights movement. What emerged from all these conversations was a firm resolve.

 “We were unified in wanting to get information out about the civil rights movement, so that the neighborhood children wouldn’t forget,” Richardson said. “We also wanted to celebrate African American inventors (whom you don’t hear about often) in hopes of inspiring young people.”

The park now has a playground and a learning space for all ages.

Legacy Council co-chair Charles Mays said he had high hopes for the park from the beginning of the planning process. 

 “Let’s dream big, and make this a world-class destination — something people will want to visit no matter where they’re from,” he said.  

The Legacy Council’s hope is that the experience of coming to the playground will spark a conversation between parents and children about the fight for civil rights, about what is right and what is just.

Visual artists have also been crucial to bringing the vision for the park to life, including Esther Osayande, Shalette Cauley Wandrick, Seitu Jones, Tacoumba Aiken, Loretta Day, and the ROHO Collective.

 “The artists helped us to imagine what the children would love,” Richardson said.

District Court Judge Pamela Alexander said in her keynote speech: “Our community has been given a gift today, but we can’t let the goodwill stop here. This is just the beginning.” 

>>>>

Get involved …

— The Kingfield Neighborhood Association (responsible for selling Sebastian Joe’s limited-run “I Have a Dream-Sickles” at the park dedications) continues with fund-raising and promotional events for the new park.

— The Building Bridges Book Club, coordinated by Saundra Crump, meets every third Tuesday, 6:30–8 p.m., at Living Spirit Church, 4501 Bloomington Ave. S. The club reads books about race, consciousness and community engagement. They’re holding a special event, a soul-food potluck on Tuesday, Sept. 7, when local author John Turnipseed will discuss his autobiography “Bloodline.”

— Legacy Council meetings are held the second Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the MLK park building, 4055 Nicollet Ave.  Richardson reflected, “As we look back on the civil rights movement, it’s clear that there were both extraordinary and ordinary people working together to right a wrong. Our message today is that anyone can serve, and everyone has something to share.”