The Lincoln Park community is deeply interwoven with the history of Chattanooga because of its ties to the Indigenous Tribes of Citico, general location to pitched battles and encampments of the Civil War, and for being a longstanding African-American residential area for more than 100 years. The opening of the community’s namesake, Lincoln Park in 1918, was seen as a symbol of reconciliation and racial progress.
Expansions to the park would include an Olympic-sized pool in 1938, the Lincoln Center in 1946, and popular rides, attractions and amenities for all who came to the park could enjoy. Its lighted fields not only brought people from all over the South but were a primary reason the Negro League baseball teams, including Willie Mays and Satchel Paige, played there.
Since the untimely disinvestment in Lincoln Park that began in the early 1970’s, a decision that was made “for, not by” the community in favor of Warner Park, a place that had been heavily segregated against us, we have had to endure five tumultuous decades of duplicities, deceits and deceptions that has been little more than empty promises and unfulfilled assurances, and this includes a series of supposed land swaps with Erlanger Hospital.
What is most concerning to the Lincoln Park community today is the continued second-class treatment and citizenship we continue to receive. We have been branded by some government officials as being people that can't be worked with and yet the historic record shows that we, including our longtime former president Bessie. T. Smith, were some of the earliest advocates who established neighborhood associations, worked for fair housing by serving on the Better Housing Commission, and were active participants in Chattanooga Vision 2000. Unfortunately, these signs of cooperation have been less than reciprocal.
When the Central Avenue extension was announced several years ago, our community felt compelled to voice our concerns. We worried about increased traffic flow, escalating home prices that will lead to gentrification and embolden carpet-baggers to overtake our community, and the threatened existence of the park itself. We did offer a resolution on April of last year that outlined our vision for the community as we would like to see it and did consult with the appropriate agencies and individuals in order to be certain that the community’s expectations were clearly stated for the record. For this we have been much maligned and labeled as obstructionists to progress. This charge was carried further when we sought a historic designation for Lincoln Park which was a conscious choice to preserve its history and heritage. To God's glory the keeper of the National Register did indeed state that Lincoln Park was eligible to be a historic site, but, regretfully, access to the park is only “granted” on a limited basis. In fact, during a recent educational tour that UTC students organized, we were thrown out of the park by law enforcement.
There are other signs of disparate treatment as well still being imposed on the residents of Lincoln Park. One of these is the changing of the 1100 block of Cleveland Avenue to Lincoln Park Avenue. Though changing street names is within the purview of the city, we strongly feel the community should have been consulted beforehand because address changes affect residents in any number of ways. We must strongly assert that the city would not have treated other communities in such a dismissive and insulting fashion.
Another one of these signs is a failure to clarify how$2 million that has been slated for a renovation of the park will be spent. We have only been told that it is “conditional”, however the conditions, which dangle like carrots on a stick, have failed to be clearly explained to us.
Third, there are groups organizing that have tried to usurp the organized and dually elected neighborhood association, and this has caused friction and divisiveness to filter throughout our community.
We have no pleasure in airing these grievances publicly, but it is our assertion that all the citizens and residents of Chattanooga, black and elderly too, are entitled to “dignity and respect”, and when the welfare and future sustainability of our community is at the heart of the matter, we have a duty to raise a moral dissent. As we begin to prepare for the 100 year anniversary of the building of Lincoln Park, it is our eternal hope that we can come together and build a path towards common ground. Most importantly, we hope this open letter serves as a precursor that illustrates to our elected officials and proprietors wanting to do business in African-American communities that though we may be marginalized and downtrodden, “We Matter Too!”, and for that fact we will continue to stay on the battlefield and lift every voice and sing.
Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association,
Vanice Hughley, President
Tiffany Rankins, Secretary