DEERFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — The Deerfield Park District Board on Thursday evening voted to rename James C. Mitchell Park, due to connection between the park and an attempt to bring racially integrated housing to the north suburb that was thwarted.
The board voted 4-1 in favor of renaming the park at Wilmot Road and Hazel Avenue in the northern suburb.
The park district will now form a citizens’ advisory committee tasked with recommending a new name, proposing other ways to honor James C. Mitchell, and developing education proposals so as to teach the history of the period of controversy accurately.
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,” Gale Gand told CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas.
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.
“Renaming Mitchell Park and the history behind talking about that history – that’s just a first step,” added 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.
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.”