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The divisive history of Robert E. Lee Park's name

Was Robert E. Lee Park really named to honor a valiant general — or to foster segregation?

The Sun recently reported that City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" young proposed changing the name of the 450-acre city-owned Robert E. Lee Park to Lake Roland Park so as to remove the "racially divisive" Confederate symbol ("City to choose new name for Robert E. Lee Park," July 17). A note of history supports this decision.

The park's name was selected in 1940s by Robert Garrett who was then chairman of the city's bureau of recreation. Garrett (1875-1961) was a noteworthy public figure. He was the wealthy scion of the Baltimore banking and B&O railroad family who became an Olympic gold medalist (Athens 1896), a financial leader, and a civic activist. He led the development of the city's public recreational facilities, the Public Athletic League and the Baltimore Boy Scouts.

Robert Garrett was, however, a staunch segregationist who was adamantly opposed racial integration of the city's parks, playgrounds, swimming pools and tennis courts. In the 1950s when integration took place he resigned from the Board of Park Commissioners. His national leadership in the white supremacist American Eugenic Society suggests that his devotion to segregation was ideological and deeply felt.

Under the circumstances it appears that when Garrett named the park for Robert E. Lee it was less a tribute to a valiant general and more his signal that the park was for those of the superior white race only. Removal of this vestige of racism is long overdue.

Garrett Power

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