City Hall

Belo Garden Will Be Renamed, but Dallas Is Still Full of Confederate Iconography

The change follows others that have recently taken place in Dallas and throughout the country.
The change follows others that have recently taken place in Dallas and throughout the country. Tyler Adams
Stripping the downtown park of its Confederate ties, the city recently voted to change the name of Belo Garden to Civic Garden. The Dallas Park and Recreation Board unanimously approved the name change at its meeting last week.

The park was originally named after Alfred Horatio Belo, who served as a Confederate Army colonel.

Developed in partnership among the city, Maureen and Robert Decherd, Belo Corp. and The Belo Foundation, it was meant to honor the journalism of all past, present and future Belo employees. The Belo entities and the Decherds donated more than $7.8 million to have the park built.

The president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Parks for Downtown Dallas, Amy Meadows, prompted the change in a letter to parks director John Jenkins and park board President Calvert Collins-Bratton.

On behalf of Belo Corp. and the Decherds, Meadows said changing the name to Civic Garden would keep with the original purpose of the park, to honor work by The Dallas Morning News and WFAA.

“It is their collective view that the park’s current recognition of Alfred Horatio Belo is inconsistent with their original intent in light of the social justice movement underway in the United States,” Meadows wrote.

She also said the new name would be fitting because the park has been used for gatherings to support a variety of social causes.

This change follows others that have recently taken place in Dallas and around the country.

Parks for Downtown Dallas is just the latest iteration of the Belo Foundation. The Dallas Morning News' parent company also announced it would sever the paper's historic ties to the Confederacy by dropping the name A.H. Belo. The new name will be DallasNews Corp.

Dallas is also home to Belo Mansion, where the Dallas Bar Association is housed. Hanging on one of the walls were portraits of Belo and his son. "I'm sure they have many flyers and banners and programs about an inclusive workplace, the usual corporate chatter," local author Edward Sebesta recently told the Observer. “But, you know, there you are, and there's this big portrait of this Confederate."

Sebesta describes himself as a cultural geographer working on "deracializing" the local landscape. He and others often track down the racist origins of local streets, buildings and parks. Then, he writes to officials or works with local activists to try to get them changed. He calls the renaming of these streets, buildings and parks “landscape reparations.”

He says the effort helps make landscapes more representative of the communities that built and live in them.

The bar association, which bought the mansion in 1977 from one of Belo’s granddaughters, represents thousands of legal professionals. It was originally built by Belo in the late 1800s as a tribute to his wife. In April, the association announced it would change the name of the mansion following a unanimous vote by its board of directors.

Aaron Tobin, president of the association, said in a prepared statement, “Our review, and ultimately our board’s decision to rename our headquarters building, properly reflects who we are as an association and doubles down on our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.”

The change was inspired in part by A.H. Belo Corp.'s decision to rename itself and came after the association published its first report on diversity and inclusion.

“The names that a community gives to streets, parks and schools can reveal much about what and who its members value.” – Prof. Euan Hague, DePaul University

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But there are still marks of the Confederacy and racist figures all over the city. In 2018, Brooke Robinson, at the time an undergraduate senior at DePaul University, created a map of Dallas streets named after members of the Confederacy or the Klan. Robinson created the map under the supervision of Prof. Euan Hague in collaboration with Sebesta.

Hague has written in the past, “The names that a community gives to streets, parks and schools can reveal much about what and who its members value.”

R.L. Thornton Freeway is named after Robert Lee Thornton, former Dallas mayor and prominent member of the KKK. City Council member Adam Bazaldua started a change.org petition and penned a letter to the Texas Department of Transportation last year to get the freeway's name changed to honor Juanita J. Craft, a two-term Dallas City Council member and civil rights leader. If enacted, it would be called Juanita J. Craft Freeway.

Then, there’s Good Latimer Expressway, named after a former mayor and judge, John Jay Good, and James W. "Weck" Latimer, founder of Dallas’ first newspaper, the Cedar Snag. The Cedar Snag was later changed to the Dallas Herald. John Jay was authorized by the Confederacy to recruit people for a unit to fight in the Civil War.

Of course, there’s Lamar Street. It was originally named after Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, the second president of the Republic of Texas, who fought to nullify federal laws and U.S. Supreme Court rulings regarding slavery and the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans. He also opposed the annexation of the state into the U.S. because he supported slavery. Recently, activists were successful in renaming the south stretch of the street to Botham Jean Boulevard.

Jean was shot dead on Sept. 6, 2018, in his own apartment on Lamar Street by Amber Guyger, then a Dallas police officer who was off-duty at the time. A jury convicted her of murder in October the following year.

They're receiving some pushback, but in an effort to further cut Dallas’ racist ties, activists are trying to get the rest of Lamar Street changed to honor Jean.

In the meantime, Meadows said in a press release, “Civic Garden will continue to thrive as a natural gathering place for citizens to relax under the shade of the tree canopy, play in the fountain and practice their First Amendment rights.”
click to enlarge There's still plenty of work to be done after the Belo Garden name change. Here's a 2018 map of Dallas' racist streets. - BROOKE ROBINSON
There's still plenty of work to be done after the Belo Garden name change. Here's a 2018 map of Dallas' racist streets.
Brooke Robinson
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn