City asks residents to suggest new name for park: Magruder’s views on segregation ‘murky’
By Sophie Gorman Oriani
The City of Hyattsville is asking residents to suggest a new name for its largest park. The name of the park has been controversial for the past several years.
William Pinkney Magruder, mayor of Hyattsville from 1909-1911, gave the park to the city in 1927, through a deed that contained language restricting the use of the park to “Caucasians.”
Along with the racially restrictive covenant, the original deed included the requirement that the park “be known as WILLIAM PINKNEY MAGRUDER PARK.”
Many residents learned of the racially restrictive language in February 2018 through a column in this newspaper. Stuart Eisenberg writes the column, Then & Now, on behalf of the Hyattsville Preservation Association, a local nonprofit that aims to preserve and restore historic homes.
Eisenberg is also the executive director of the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation (HyCDC), a nonprofit focused on revitalization and sustainable development.
Since 2018, the HyCDC has led the Mapping Racism project, in partnership with the Prince George’s African American Museum & Cultural Center and Joe’s Movement Emporium, among others. The project aims to uncover racially restrictive deed covenants on properties in Hyattsville, and present that research in an engaging manner.
On behalf of the Mapping Racism project, Eisenberg gave a presentation to the Hyattsville City Council on March 4, 2019. He discussed the history of segregation in Hyattsville, including a 1913 segregation ordinance. The Supreme Court ruled such ordinances unconstitutional in 1917.
In 1922, the Ku Klux Klan was given a permit to parade in Hyattsville; due to overwhelming citizen opposition, the permit was revoked, so the Ku Klux Klan flew over the city and dropped literature, instead.
Following Eisenberg’s presentation, then-Councilmember Shani Warner (Ward 2) asked about Magruder’s position on segregation. Eisenberg said that he hoped to research Magruder’s perspectives or role in this aspect of the city’s history. He added that “Magruder owned more land than anybody else in Prince George’s County at one point.”
On March 18, 2019, the city council passed a motion to investigate the feasibility of changing the name of the park and updating the deed to remove “any restrictions on use of the public amenity that would be considered discriminatory as defined by the Hyattsville Human Rights Act.”
This May, the council approved a motion to update the deed, removing discriminatory language.
On Aug. 8, Eisenberg provided an informal memo to the Hyattsville City Council, titled “Mapping Racism: a brief summary of research findings as it pertains to William P. Magruder.” The memo stated that as part of the Mapping Racism research project, the HyCDC “examined every recorded property transaction” that Magruder made in the county.
The Hyattsville Life & Times obtained and reviewed a copy of the memo, which is not published in the agenda materials or the minutes for the city council’s Aug. 10 meeting, during which the renaming of the park was discussed.
The memo notes that among over 500 transactions Magruder was a part of, only the Magruder Park deed contained a racially restrictive covenant.
The memo also notes that other Hyattsville real estate developers did use segregationist covenants “dozens to thousands” of times during the same period.
Additionally, the memo quotes minutes from Hyattsville City Council meetings in 1927 that refer to a “Committee on the Magruder Park gift” which was “appointed to prepare” the deed for Magruder Park.
The memo concludes that “who is truly responsible for the Deed language for Magruder Park is still murky at best,” and that “no information we have uncovered to date points to William P. Magruder as a practitioner of segregationist land development, as so many of his peers were.”
At the Sept. 21 council meeting, City Administrator Tracey Douglas confirmed that the quit claim deed “has removed the racist and exclusionary language” originally contained in the deed. In a Sept. 29 email, Communications Manager Cindy Zork noted that the revised deed has not yet been recorded, but that the city will make the deed public once it has beens.
Douglas announced that the October Hyattsville Reporter will contain a postage-paid postcard for residents to submit new name suggestions, and a suggestion box will be installed in Magruder Park. The city councilmembers will also hold ward meetings in October and November to gather input.
After the Nov. 15 deadline to submit name suggestions, submissions will be turned over to the Race and Equity Task Force and the Health, Wellness, and Recreation Advisory Committee, which will review the list. Possible names will then be presented to the city council for review in early 2021.