Lincoln Park reunion draws neighbors as Erlanger officials talk with residents about idea of park

Lincoln Park reunion draws neighbors as Erlanger officials talk with residents about idea of park

September 1st, 2013 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

Children play in a bounce house.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Lincoln Park looked and sounded like the old days Saturday, with rhythm and blues playing over the park, the Howard band performing on the ball field and fire blazing from a hot dog grill.

"This was our playground," said Vannice Hughley, president of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association. "On Labor Day and all holidays this park was filled to the rim."

It was the first Lincoln Park reunion since Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's announcement the city is working to acquire the five-acre site from Erlanger Health System and preserve it as a park.

However, the Erlanger board has not yet approved the donation, worth about $1 million.

"The city and the board are going to get together to discuss ultimately what is in the best interest of Erlanger," health system President and CEO Kevin Spiegel said Saturday. "But I have to tell you the board is really committed to ensure that the park stays a park forever, so we have to figure out how do we work with the city."

Some board members have hesitated over the donation, saying they have a responsibility to learn more and to do what is right for the hospital.

But there was no separation between Lincoln Park residents and Erlanger officials Saturday.

Wanda Goins, a Lincoln Park resident of 15 years, danced onto the ball field and greeted Erlanger's chief administrative officer, Gregg Gentry, with a hug.

"They helped us," she said about Erlanger.

Hughley and several other residents shook hands with and embraced Spiegel.

"A few months ago we would have been praying and protesting that this park be saved", said City Councilman Moses Freeman, whose District 8 includes the park.

But on Saturday, people came to celebrate.

"Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" played over the speakers as Tamara Woodard pushed her granddaughter in a stroller.

"Everybody needs a little James Brown at a picnic," she said.

She talked about her affection for the park and how her late grandfather, Henry Henderson, played Negro League baseball there when she was a child.

"It was the only place blacks could go. This was our Lake Winnepesaukah," said Woodard.

Former mayor Ron Littlefield's administration had plans to extend Central Avenue through the park to connect to Amnicola Highway.

Lincoln Park residents objected to the plan. They asked city officials to consider the history of the park, that it was special to the community because it was the only park for blacks during segregation. People from throughout the Southeast region came to Lincoln Park because of its Olympic-size swimming pool and amusement rides and the Negro League baseball teams that played there.

Berke, who was elected mayor in March, has assured residents several times that he will allow no road to come through the community.

"People like you and me can save a park like this," said Perrin Lance, co-founder of Chattanooga Organized for Action, which has assisted residents in their effort to preserve the park.

"If you ever doubt that little people can win," he said, "come to Lincoln Park."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 434-757-6431.