Though the city officially reopened Lincoln Park less than two months ago, a city commission has already begun taking steps to have it renamed.
On Wednesday, the Equity and Human Relations Commission received and filed a presentation from the Change The Name Coalition, which is calling for the removal of both the park’s century-old Abraham Lincoln statue and the new 13-foot penny sculpture as well as asks that the park be named for someone other than the nation’s 16th president.
Commissioners also discussed submitting a letter of support on behalf of the Change The Name Coalition at their next meeting in May.
In their presentation, coalition members explained their reasoning by highlighting three key actions ordered by President Lincoln:
- The hanging of 38 Dakota men in December 1862, reportedly the largest mass execution in U.S. history;
- The “Long Walk,” in which 8,000 Navajo people were forcibly marched 450 miles in 1863, resulting in more than 2,200 deaths;
- The 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado, in which American soldiers killed “around 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho people composed mostly of women, children, and the elderly,” according to the National Park Service.
“This history is not taught in schools,” coalition and Dakota Tribe member George Funmaker told the commission. Though Funmaker said a lot of people see Lincoln as a “hero,” many Native Americans view him more like a villain.
Stephanie Mushrush, a member of the coalition and enrolled tribal member of the Washoe Tribe, said this history constitutes “historical trauma,” leading to generations of health and psychological problems for Native Americans.
She said that the Lincoln Park penny’s unveiling in early February “shocked” her. “We’re talking about genocide,” she said. “We’re talking about people being killed.”
Funmaker said the park itself was “great,” but that he couldn’t take his son there, because then he’d have to talk about the actions Lincoln had ordered against Native Americans.
Coalition members pointed to the city’s own Framework for Reconciliation, which calls for both acknowledging accounts and experiences of racial injustice as well as policies to redress harm caused by that injustice.
Funmaker also pointed out that while it was good that the commission began its meeting with a land acknowledgement recognizing the Tongva and Gabrielino Tribes that once inhabited the local area, such an action was just “symbolic,” and that real policy changes were also needed—especially when both Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have publicly apologized for past acts of genocide against Native Americans.
Parks Director Brent Dennis told the commission that he had recently met with coalition members.
“They presented their case very clearly and in a compelling way,” he said, but added that the City Council was the ultimate decision-maker on any name change. The city’s Parks and Recreation Commission would also need to approve any name change, he said.
Coalition members also said they tried to meet with Councilmember Mary Zendejas, as the park is in her district, but said they hadn’t yet.
Zendejas’s office said the Councilmember has contacted the appropriate city departments and engaging in “ongoing discussions” on the matter.
“I hope that as a community we can come up with solutions and work together as we engage in dialogue,” Zendejas said, through a spokesperson.
As far as what the park name would change to, coalition members said that would be decided through “consultation with the Tongva people.”
The commissioners expressed support for the coalition’s request. Commissioner Cory Allen admitted that he hadn’t previously heard the history of Lincoln’s actions against tribespeople before.
Robbie Butler, the city’s Ethics and Human Relations Commissioner, also attended the meeting and said she thought the coalition’s presentation was “extremely informative.”
Commission Chair Alyssa Gutierrez suggested the commission could write a letter of support for changing the park’s name, but would have to discuss that at a later meeting.
“We need policy actions,” Gutierrez said. “I look forward to continuing this discussion next month.”
Lincoln Park, which dates to 1880, is the oldest park in the city, according to the Parks Department. Originally called Pacific Park, the name changed in 1915 with the installation of a statue commemorating Lincoln.
The park closed in 2016 when construction began on a new civic center. It reopened in early February.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a comment from Councilmember Zendejas.