[Posted December 4, 2020]
As reported on December 2 by Willamette Week, SW Portland’s Custer Park is no longer named for the controversial 19th-century American general. Effective immediately, the official name is simply “A Park.”
Retiring Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz stripped the park of its name so that it can be renamed early next year. Renaming a city park requires a lengthy public process, but Fritz, as the city commissioner overseeing the parks bureau, has the power to un-name a park. The new name will be chosen based on a community process and will follow city rules for renaming city property.
“As a resident of the Hillsdale/Multnomah area for 23 years I am very pleased that Commissioner Fritz took this action. Names of parks and neighborhoods do not need to be fixed forever in time. Whoever named the park after Custer in the first place valued white, military oppression and subjugation of the First Peoples of this land. Those are not the values of my neighbors today. “ --Mellani Calvin, SW Capitol Hill Rd
Rachelle Dixon, a Hillsdale resident who ran for city council this past spring, told the Hillsdale News in May that “to have a park named after George Armstrong Custer misrepresents what SW Portland is: a community that is very diverse and progressive.” Two years ago Dixon created an online petition to rename the park in honor of Beatrice Morrow Cannady. To date, the petition has collected more than 1,400 signatures.
In response to the news about Fritz's decision to un-name the park, Dixon said, "I am excited that we’re taking this step and making certain our neighborhood parks reflect our values and are welcoming for all. My hope would be that we would also rethink Custer Street and Custer Drive as well."
Cannady, according to the Oregon Historical Society online Oregon Encyclopedia, lived from 1889-1974 and was “ the most noted civil rights activist in early twentieth-century Oregon,” and the longtime editor of the Advocate, a weekly newspaper published from 1903-1936 covering Black events and culture in Portland. She was also the first Black woman to graduate from Northwestern College of Law (now Lewis & Clark Law School).
Custer had no particular ties to Oregon. Many Custer monuments exist around the country as a result of the heroic image cultivated by him during his lifetime and, after his death, by his wife. A popular culture that romanticized the violent settling of the American west by people of European descent solidified his prominent place in history until the late 20th-century when views of the settlement era began to change.
Fritz has not proposed a new name. ‘We’ve been doing a lot of work on land acknowledgements and over the past 18 months have researched which bands and tribes historically used this land. I would be very interested in a new name reflecting that research,” she says. She also points out that names selected by the community for the two newest parks in SW Portland are not, in fact, the names of people: Spring Garden Park and Holly Farm Park.
The Parks and Recreation Department will be reassigned to another commissioner after the new council is installed in January. The final decision on a new name will be made by the commissioner in charge of the Parks bureau based on recommendations from the community.
Fritz says that, apart from Custer Park, there are many names of parks and statues in Portland that should be reviewed. She has recommended that the Parks department undertake a city-wide process and establish a committee to propose a slate of names that neighborhoods could choose from to rename parks department assets around the city.
What's in a name? You tell us.
In case you missed it, here are few recent stories about places names in and around Hillsdale: