Frederick Douglass Re-enactor Sings To Mark Renaming Of East Nashville Park

Mar 22, 2017

An actor portraying an early Frederick Douglass (pre-white hair) performed at an East Nashville park that — after Wednesday — more clearly honors the abolitionist and former slave.

"The whisper was that my father was a white man, that my master was my father, in all its glaring odiousness," said Bakari King, quoting Douglass himself and a passage from a locally produced musical about his life. King is a teacher at University School of Nashville and plays Douglass in the production.

Mayor Megan Barry unveiled a new sign, replacing the one that misspelled "Douglass." The previous signs left off the second "s," which historians say he added himself. The Parks Department also called him Fred instead of Frederick.

"As Frederick Douglass famously said, 'If there is no struggle, there is no progress.' And Nashville had to struggle to fully acknowledge the debt that we owe to the legacy of this man," Barry said. "Whether it was just a mistake or something more sinister, Frederick Douglass's name was written out of Nashville's story."

The 7-acre site was bought in the 1930s and quietly opened for African Americans after resistance from white neighbors. Until recently, it was unclear whether the Parks Department intended to honor Frederick Douglass or someone with a similar name.

A listener asked WPLN's Curious Nashville project about the mystery in October, which led to the revived interest. That reporting showed that the minutes kept by the parks board at the time simply called it "Douglas Park," and someone came in later and wrote with pen: "Fred."

Local historian David Ewing believes it was an effort to "erase what they had done," saying that it would have ruffled feathers even more to name government property after an African-American — even someone as revered as Douglass.

"Getting the name corrected to this park is important," said Kevin Douglass Greene, a great-great-grandson of Douglass who lives in Murfreesboro. "But it's not as important as the park itself."