The Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association, led by Dr. Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham, publically asked Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at a news conference on July 21 not to change the name of Robert E. Lee Park to Lake Roland Park.
Cheatham, who has led several different civil rights organizations in the past including a Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, agrees the name should be changed, but he believes changing it to Lake Roland Park is just as bad, if not worse than, leaving it as Robert E. Lee.
“We found it to be a slap in the face,” said Cheatham.
Cheatham noted Roland Park has a history of housing discrimination against African-Americans, Jews and other minorities, which is pointed out in the book “Not in My Neighborhood” written by Antero Pietila. The book describes the discriminatory housing practices used in Baltimore from the 1880s into the 20th century, which was later picked up by other cities.
The push to change the park’s name came from Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who accelerated the process after the tragic shootings in Charleston, S.C.
“The park is centered around historic Lake Roland, and the name Lake Roland Park better reflects this open space treasure,” Kamenetz said in a statement, reported by the Baltimore Sun. “We look forward to making a joint announcement with the city about the name change in the near future.”
In part due to pressure from a petition started on Change.org addressed to Rawlings-Blake, Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has introduced a proposed ordinance to change the name of the park, as reported by the City Paper.
Cheatham has reached out to Rawlings-Blake’s office several times and even recommended Pietila’s book as reference.
“I think the mayor needs to be very careful about who she puts on the committee [that will rename the park],” said Cheatham. “You have a county executive who is about to make a major blunder. This will insult the African-American and Jewish communities.”
Congregation president Russell Margolis of Bolton Street Synagogue, which is located several minutes south of the park, was contacted about the renaming but was unable to comment on the issue.
Cheatham says he would like to see the park named after Maryland-born abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
On June 30, Cheatham and supporters held a news conference in Wyman Park calling for the removal of the Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson monument across from the Baltimore Museum of Art.