by Maxine Gross
You need only turn down Lakeland Road to see what is left of my hometown, Lakeland, which was founded around 1890. By 1903, Lakeland was flourishing, a community where Americans of African descent had built a community with two churches and a school. When College Park was incorporated in 1945, Maryland legislators added Lakeland within the city’s boundaries.
As children, in the 1960s, we walked to class at Lakeland Elementary School, bought candy at Black’s Store and Mack’s Market, and at Easter, got a press and curl at Miss Gertrude’s. There were carnivals at the Elk’s Home and parties for the grown folks at The Hall on Navahoe Street. Few roads were paved, but there were streetlights to signal time to go home for dinner. Most everyone worshipped at Embry AME, First Baptist or Little New Zion Holiness, which was across the tracks. Lakeland was one family. We children knew that notice of our misdeeds would arrive home so quickly that the tongue lashing or switch would be ready when we hit the doorstep. While the rest of the city was white, the people of Lakeland were a rainbow of browns, from pale cream and teasingly tan to midnight.
Childhood innocence ended one day after Mom set us down for “the talk.” She showed us an article in a Washington newspaper that described Lakeland as a slum. Mom explained, through her own anger, “You do live in a ghetto; you do not live in a slum.” A ghetto is a location imposed on “the other” in a society. The fact that Lakeland was labeled a slum allowed people to avert their eyes while a community was destroyed. You see, the new city’s new housing laws had no room for homes built by African Americans, people who had little access to well-paying jobs or regulated mortgage loans.
Parents and grandparents had been talking for a while about what could be done to meet the new city’s housing codes, to get roads paved and stop the flooding that invaded some homes and blocked Lakeland’s entrance when it rained hard. Our families asked their city government for help. They then worked with the city for years, eventually agreeing to a plan. But the city did not live up to the vision of that plan. They did something quite different.
My mind goes back to that newspaper headline, “Slum.” They felt our community had no value and used the disadvantages society imposed on us as a tool to take our land and diminish our futures. They produced something shiny and new.
We should be happy? No, we still mourn.
At a recent meeting, the College Park City Council discussed passing a resolution concerning Black lives in College Park. The language proposed included no recognition of the harm the city did to the African American community of Lakeland. I testified during the meeting, reminding the mayor and council of the damage done to Lakeland by the city. I also underscored that those actions were an outgrowth of systemic racism. Resolution 20-R-16 was amended and passed with new language which included a general recognition of wrongdoing and an apology to Lakelanders.
Words make a good start. The city still has the moral responsibility to recognize how the city’s actions impacted the Lakeland community and, with Lakeland residents and Lakeland’s diaspora, to carry out a program of restorative justice.