Park’s renaming and march set for Monday

January 18, 2019

Fifteen years before he led a group of neighbors in a call for creating Rochester’s East Park, Berdine Erickson marched in the memory of the man whose name will grace the park starting Monday.

A Rochester State Hospital employee at the time, Erickson represented the Minnesota AFL Council in the April 8, 1968, Memphis march held days after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

“We are connected in some way, which is really nice,” Rochester Park Board member Cydni Smith said recently, regarding the naming of Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

In addition to marching to honor King, Erickson helped convince Olmsted County officials in the mid-1980s to give 34 acres of future parkland to the city. Located west of the Federal Medical Center, the land had been part of the former Rochester State Hospital campus, which the county purchased for $1 in 1983.

Paul Widman, Parks and Recreation director, said records from the city park’s creation a few years later show that little thought was put into the name of East Park.

Renaming the park was suggested by a group of community members and approved by the Park Board late last year as an effort to honor King and the civil rights movement. Additionally, Donavan Bailey, a member of the community group, said it aligns Rochester with more than 600 cities that honor King in a similar fashion.

While the effort spurred some concerns about the process, members of the Eastside Pioneers Neighborhood Association voted last week to support the change and the Park Board is working to change its naming policy to ensure neighboring community members are engaged in future naming efforts.

Dee Sabol, executive director of the Diversity Council, who is also a member of the community group that suggested the name change, said such consideration is needed.

“This is how inclusive community works, establishing new ways to share decision-making and conversation about what is important,” she said, noting she looks forward to future naming efforts.

“It makes sense to begin with Dr. King, an idea that came directly from a group of community members,” she said. “Additional opportunities will come to rethink names of existing spaces in terms of what is important to memorialize.”

Leading up to the effort to memorialize King Monday, at 10:15 a.m. local residents will march from a rally at Mayo Civic Center to East Park for the renaming ceremony.

“We normally march around town,” said Barbara Jordan, a member of the Rochester Branch of the NAACP who is helping organize the event, of the annual rally, which is free and open to the public.

This year, the march will cover an approximately 1-mile route from the Civic Center to the park on East Center Street.

Widman said the naming ceremony is planned to be at the picnic shelter in the park’s eastern half, to allow close proximity to parking for people who cannot participate in the walk but want to witness the event.

The ceremony will include an unveiling of a sign with the new name, as well as participation by the neighborhood association, parks and recreation department and other community groups.

Widman said new signs will start going up in the park this winter.

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