DEERFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — Since the George Floyd protests, we have seen monuments across the country taken down due to their connection with racism.
On Thursday night, the Deerfield Park District Board will vote on renaming a park with a questionable history. CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas looked into the ongoing debate.
Many Deerfield residents hope the name James C. Mitchell soon will no longer be attached to the park at Wilmot Road and Hazel Avenue in the northern suburb.
“I feel like this is our Confederate statue and it needs to go,” said Gale Gand.
Gand, a former Deerfield resident, and her family, have been advocating for the removal of the name for a long time.
“I’ve been involved with this fight to integrate Deerfield for over 60 years,” Gand said.
In 1959, a developer planned to build integrated housing in Deerfield.
“And when the village got wind of that they whipped it into a sort of fearmongering – you know, this is going to ruin our town,” Gand said.
Many opposed the integration. But a small group called Citizens for Human Rights fought for the development.
Photographer Art Shay captured moments from their protests. Among those seen in the photos is James Baldwin, whose attention the crisis in Deerfield attracted.
(Photo Credits: Troublemakers: Chicago Freedom Struggles Through the Lens of Art Shay, Courtesy of The Art Shay Photography Archive and Gallery Victor Armendariz, Chicago)
“I remember that Deerfield was divided,” Gand said.
Eventually, advocates for integration like Bob Gand, Gale’s father, were outvoted. The land then became a park and was named after the park district president, James C. Mitchell.
“We’re trying to get that name changed to help our community heal, and to also right the wrong,” Gand said.
For Gand, it is about continuing her father’s legacy and bettering her community for future generations.
She’s not alone.
“Renaming Mitchell Park and the history behind talking about that history – that’s just a first step,” said Alec Lopata.
Lopata is a Deerfield resident and activist.
“The ramifications of that decision to not integrate in 1959 still come through today, and the fact that Deerfield is 94% white, still,” Lopata said.
He has been advocating for a name change since he was in high school. But it took George Floyd’s death to give the 60-year battle momentum.
“We’ve been able to harness the energy that people have for that to this moment, which has been really, really exciting,” Lopata said.
Along with fellow activists, Rayan Falouji and Amy Roost, Gand and Lopata teamed up to create a Facebook page, and encouraged people to email the Deerfield Park District about the name change. More than 500 emails flooded the district’s inbox.
“I’m excited that this kind of action can hopefully finally be taken, and we can keep moving Deerfield forward and keep improving,” Lopata said.
The park district board was set to vote on the change Thursday.
“I am optimistic that the board will make the right decision,” Lopata said.
A virtual board meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. to discuss the renaming. Information about joining the meeting can be found here.
PHOTOS: Victor Armendariz has a gallery in Chicago that displays some of Art Shay’s photographs as seen above. We asked Armendariz about the photos. He said:
“Art Shay photographed the Deerfield protest rally…. The Deerfield Public Library has a large collection of ephemera relating to the events of the time and held an exhibit to commemorate the 60 year anniversary in 2019. In addition, Eric Gellman dedicates an entire chapter to the events in his recent book: “Troublemakers: Chicago Freedom Struggles Through the Lens of Art Shay. The images… are included in this book. Some of the photographs can be available for viewing at my gallery in person.”