Jamming to the Howard School marching band. Children bouncing with abandon in an inflatable castle. Brothers playing football. Little league baseball players. Families barbecuing and selling fish sandwiches. Local singers and a dj spinning R&B classics. Remember stories, from elder and young alike, about how one special place has impacted the lives of Black people all over the southeast. On August 31st, 2013, Chattanooga’s Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association hosted the first annual Lincoln Park Reunion.
Throughout the day—while directing traffic, eating some of the delicious food that was being sold by vendors, socializing with family members, friends, and new acquaintances—CCJ members heard stories and shared knowledge with former and current Lincoln Park residents and Chattanoogans whose families took trips to downtown to enjoy the park. We joined the wife of a local whose family used to own the Early Bird Cafe in convincing him to park, join the reunion, and tell the good folks at the information table his story. We excitedly circled around Tamara Woodard, mother of CCJ member Ash-Lee W. Henderson, as she told stories about what she remembered as “the Black Lake Winnepesaukah” with amusement rides and about her grandfather playing Negro League baseball in the park.
During downtimes, when traffic was parked and folks were enjoying the festivities, we shared stories among one another that had been told to us during the days leading up to the reunion by Ms. Tiffany Rankins and Ms. Hughely—elders who spent their childhoods enjoying the historic Lincoln Park and residents who still call the neighborhood home. Among those stories were ones about the zoo that housed what folks described as an unforgettable monkey, an olympic-sized swimming pool, and buses arriving from all over the Southeast on Saturdays. Community members shared with us the pride that they felt in themselves and other Black people when they attended Lincoln Park, their feelings about segregation and integration, and what it felt like to be back in the park with their families and friends—teaching a new generation of Black Chattanoogans and white allies about their history.
There were also conversations about the recent announcement from Mayor Andy Berke that the city has plans to take over ownership of the park from Erlanger hospital. Now we all are looking to the board of directors of the hospital to finalize a vote to donate the park, to Mayor Berke’s administration to preserve that land, and ultimately for Lincoln Park residents to have the final say about what happens with their park.
Even as our members were gathering trash bags from the trash cans in the park and the last few reunion attendees packed away their lawn chairs and coolers, stories were shared with us from different generations who’ve used the park. A younger attendee shared that he had played basketball with friends on the courts along the edge of the park. He wondered how much it would take to put goals back on the courts and we shared that we had the same conversation amongst ourselves earlier in the day. We look forward to seeing how the community brings Lincoln Park back to life, and are grateful to our loved ones in the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association for allowing all of us to be a part of such an inspiring and historic moment.