By Maxine Gross

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Maxine Gross is chair of the board of directors at the Lakeland Community Heritage Project.

In past articles I have written that the beauty of growing up in Lakeland was seeing black families living in a vibrant community, built from so little, and against so many odds. I have also told of my journey of research, employing tools learned long ago as a graduate student to reveal stories outside my personal view. I shared the tragedy of witnessing the destruction of most of my community  by deliberate government policies.

In  1890, Lakeland was a slowly growing neighborhood of homes on the shores of a  lake. Most residents were white. By 1903 there had been a drastic change. White families had left as Black families settled in Lakeland  seeking a place to call home. By 1903 they had built the community’s first school as well as two churches. Lakeland grew  as extended family members joined their relatives. During the great migration still others came to Lakeland seeking a place where African Americans had built business, social clubs, and where their children could go from first grade through high school, sheltered  within a caring community.

While Lakeland had many social and cultural strengths,  it also faced many challenges including the low pay received by African American workers, a problematic location, and governmental benign neglect.  Parts of the area regularly flooded and some homes did not meet legal standards. 

At the end of WWII the University of Maryland’s president, Dr. H.C. “Curley” Byrd initiated a plan to create a new municipality, College Park. Lakeland’s residents opposed the move to incorporate by a vote of 173 to 9. In June 1945, the Greenbelt Cooperator newspaper reported that the community’s Black residents feared losing their lakefront homes. They suspected they’d suffer from paying higher taxes for improvements they would never enjoy. Nevertheless, Lakeland still was included in the footprint of the new town. 

In the 1960s, College Park targeted Lakeland for urban renewal, and during the 1970s many residents were forced to sell and leave their community.  More than 100 of the 150 households were displaced. As homes were vacated some were burned as training  for the local fire departments. Eastern Lakeland remained a wasteland for many years until the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority used the gravel deposits under the home sites to build Metro. Once that work was completed the land was developed into a park, Lake Artemesia Natural Area turned over to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). The old Lakeland Elementary School built in 1925 with help from the Julius Rosenwald Fund is now underwater along with many families’ homes. 

All of us should care about this history because the prosperity of Lakeland, Berwyn, Hollywood and every neighborhood in the city determines whether the whole city will thrive. 

Three long years ago, our city government sat to consider a document  called “Resolution in Support of Black Lives.” When the city’s leaders were confronted by College Park’s past  actions against Lakeland, they moved to to approve a resolution stating, “RESOLVED, that the Mayor and Council acknowledge and apologize for our city’s past history of oppression, particularly with regards to the Lakeland community, and actively seek opportunities for accountability and truth-telling about past injustice, and aggressively seek opportunities for restorative justice.” 

When asked about that meeting, College Park City Councilmember Maria Macie said, “I think we weren’t sure what to do. It was such a shocking and disappointing discovery. When the idea of forming a Restorative Justice Commission was suggested I felt that it was a good idea because we need to know the facts and we need a plan for the future.”

The College Park Restorative Justice Commission (CPRJC) is a group of current  and former residents of Lakeland, many with generation-long ties to the community. Its first actions have focused on what the United Nations would call “satisfaction,” asking for the Prince George’s County’s Historic Preservation Commission to create a new survey also known as a map that reflects Lakesland’s historical and cultural value. The Commission also asked the M-NCPPC  to acknowledge the community’s history by renaming its two sites the Lakeland College Park Community Center and the Lake Artemesia Natural Area at Lakeland. Next spring, the conversation will broaden to allow the whole community to explore the past injustices carried out in Lakeland and consider paths to repair the resulting hurts. 

I am excited to announce that the Rev. Dr. Joanne Braxton, who grew up in this community and retains close ties, is lending the support of The Braxton Institute for Sustainability, Resiliency and Joy. In 2020 the organization provided a small group of Lakelanders  with an introduction to Restorative and Transformative Justice. Braxton and her team are continuing to support these efforts. Their 2024 work will be supported by a grant through the #Case4Reparations funding initiative of Liberated Capital’s Decolonizing Wealth Fund. A group which supports “transformative social change”.

Mackie wrote, “My hopes are that the Restorative Justice process will cause healing in Lakeland and all of College Park. There will not be perfect answers, but hopefully there will be some good ones.”

Councilmember John Rigg (District 3) hopes the process can provide a degree of closure for Lakelanders and their descendants and spotlight College Park’s African-American history.

Mayor Fazlul Kabir wrote “I am genuinely grateful for the Restorative Justice Commission’s work so far. The RJC has done a commendable job on the community engagement process with input and feedback from current, former, and future members of the broader Lakeland community. I look forward to working with the RJC in achieving restorative measures correcting the race-based harms from the City and its partners impacting the Lakeland community.”

This spring we will have the chance to explore ways to grow together as a strong community. Please watch these pages and other outlets for details as they develop.