Now that the Robert E. Lee statue is gone, his formerly eponymous park in Oak Lawn is getting a new name. The city of Dallas parks board voted unanimously Friday morning to give Lee Park a placeholder name. The vote returned the park to its original name, Oak Lawn Park, until the city can go through the process of formally renaming the park.
"I'm supporting [renaming the park] because I want to make sure that the parks in the city of Dallas are places where we are all equal," said Bobby Abtahi, president of the parks board. "The last place in this city where everyone is equal is a park. I take it very seriously when people in our city don't feel welcome at a park."
There was no debate from the board about renaming the park, and many members agreed that it didn't make sense to keep the name if the statue was gone. The public, too, was quiet on the issue — if not for media members, the gallery in the Dallas City Council chambers would've been empty.
Yolanda Williams, District 5 City Council member Rickey Callahan's appointee to the board, took issue with the name of Oak Lawn Park, insisting that if those who called for those statue's removal — she singled out City Council member Philip Kingston — really cared about Dallas' black community, they would support naming the park after an African-American.
"I don’t want everybody getting excited thinking [Oak Lawn Park] is the name," she said.
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Initially, the board's resolution called for spending $40,000 to remove signage featuring the park's old name from the park and the surrounding area. The board elected Friday not to spend that cash. Instead, the city will cover Lee's name where necessary until the park has a permanent name.
Gay Donnel, president and CEO of the Lee Park & Arlington Hall Conservancy, which oversees the park, issued a statement thanking the board for taking up the naming issue.
“Much has happened in the last few weeks here at our urban oasis,” Donnel said. “The Lee statue was removed, and the Mayor’s Task Force continues to debate all of the issues related to Confederate monuments. Nevertheless, the Conservancy is ready to begin planning for the future and talking to our neighbors about the vacant space left after the statue’s departure.”