Frederick Douglass Park gets its name restored

Mayor Barry (far left) joins Councilman Scott Davis (far right) with city officials and descendants of Frederick Douglass in the grassy park bottom where the famed abolitionist visited more than a century ago. The name of the park recently changed to Frederick Douglass Park; which corrected an error in the prior name, "Fred Douglas Park".

Mayor Barry (far left) joins Councilman Scott Davis (far right) with city officials and descendants of Frederick Douglass in the grassy park bottom where the famed abolitionist visited more than a century ago. The name of the park recently changed to Frederick Douglass Park; which corrected an error in the prior name, “Fred Douglas Park”.

Mayor Megan Barry, Councilman Scott Davis and Metro Parks have unveiled a new sign, replacing the one that misspelled ‘Douglass.’ The previous signs left off the second ‘s,’ which historians say he added himself. The Parks Department also called him Fred instead of Frederick.

It proclaims the seven-acre plot of land that runs along the back of Ellington Parkway as Frederick Douglass Park.

The park champions the abolitionist who was born into slavery but later escaped to freedom and rose to prominence as a champion of human rights.

On Wednesday, families and children joined descendants of Frederick Douglass in the grassy park bottom where the famed abolitionist visited more than a century ago.

“This is a great day,” said Kevin Douglass Greene, Douglass’ great great grandson, who lives in Murfreesboro. “It’s always great and very important when history can be updated to reflect its actual meaning.

“Getting the name corrected to this park is important, but it’s not as important as the park itself. The park itself is a place where children, families, this whole neighborhood can come and recreate in a safe manner. And to be able to have Frederick Douglass’ name attached to this park and have it be a safe place for everyone, that’s what’s most important to me.”

Earlier this month, the Metro Parks Board voted unanimously to “clarify and correct” the name of what was once known as Fred Douglas Park to Frederick Douglass Park.

The vote came after a detailed investigation into the roots of the park’s name, led by former Parks Director Tommy Lynch.

The question that swirled around the city was this: Did someone get the park’s name wrong—accidentally or on purpose?
Historian and writer Leland R. Johnson first documented the history of the park in the 1986 book The Parks of Nashville: A History of the Board of Parks and Recreation.

Johnson wrote: “The origin of the name is obscure. At its meeting of May 17, 1935, the board named it ‘Douglas Park,’ as shown in the typed minutes, but someone with an ink pen inserted ‘Fred’ in front of Douglas, probably at the next board meeting when the minutes were read.

“No Fred Douglas prominent in Nashville or East Nashville history has been identified, and the Park Board may well have intended to honor Frederick Douglass, the famous Black leader, journalist, and statesman.”

After extensive research (which included an examination of Metro and local newspaper archives and interviews with local professors and historians, including Reavis Mitchell and Linda Wynn from Fisk University; Bobby Lovett, retired from Tennessee State University; attorney David Ewing; and Tim Walker, executive director of Metro’s Historical Commission) compelling evidence was found that the original intent was to name the park after Douglass.