Men play a drum during a protest over the name of Lincoln Park. A coalition is calling for a new name because of the former president's ties to Native American deaths. Photo by Jason Ruiz

Protestors erected gallows in front of the giant penny at Lincoln Park in Downtown Long Beach Monday as part of a protest to demand the park be renamed because of President Abraham Lincoln’s role in ordering or overseeing the deaths of Native Americans during his presidency.

The Change the Name Coalition, which includes indigenous activists who live in Long Beach, has called for the renaming of the park since the start of the year and showed up to the park Monday to honor the 38 Dakota men who were hanged by the United States government in 1862. The gallows had 38 individual nooses to honor the men who died 160 years ago, said Stefanie Mushrush, a member of the coalition.

“Our city is progressive, diverse and forward-thinking,” Mushrush said. “This [penny] is not in alignment with those values.”

The protest included prayers for the 38 men who died as well as a reading of each one of their names as cars drove by on Ocean Boulevard, some honking in support.

Mushrush said the group chose to protest in front of the penny because “it was new.” The penny was installed before the park reopened this year but after the city’s Framework for Reconciliation was adopted in August 2020, which called for the city to address inequities and racism existing in the city.

Lincoln Park dates back to 1880 and is the oldest park in the city, according to the Parks Department. It was originally called Pacific Park but had its name changed in 1915 with the installation of a statue commemorating Lincoln.

George Funmaker said the group would like to see the park renamed after Toypurina, a Tongva woman who helped lead a rebellion against Spanish settlers in 1785. Long Beach is the historic home of the Gabrielino-Tongva people, whose empire stretched from coastal islands to San Bernardino. Earlier this year the City Council agreed to look into the feasibility of creating a city commission dedicated to tribal issues.

Funmaker pointed to recent high-profile renamings of the major sports franchises and said that his group would continue to advocate to city officials and protest at the park until the name is changed and the Lincoln statue and penny are removed.

“I promise you, if that process doesn’t work we’ll take other measures to take it down,” Funmaker said to the crowd.

A man adjusts nooses on gallows set up at Lincoln Park in Long Beach as part of a protest and remembrance of the 38 Dakota men killed in 1862 by the United States government. Photo by Jason Ruiz

Coalition members cite three specific events that Lincoln is linked to as reasons why the park should not be named after the 16th U.S. president. They include the 1862 hanging of the 38 Dakota men, reportedly the largest mass execution in the nation’s history, the “Long Walk” of 1863 that saw 8,000 Navajo people marching 450 miles that led to more than 2,200 deaths and the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre.

The Sand Creek incident saw American soldiers kill around 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho people “composed mostly of women, children and the elderly” according to the National Park Service.

The city’s Equity and Human Relations Commission voted in June to approve a letter to be sent to the City Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission to consider renaming the park because of the effect its being named after Lincoln could have on native people living in Long Beach, among other things.

Commissioners said the letter should include the demands of the coalition that the 13-foot-tall penny and the Lincoln statue be removed from the park, a new monument honoring native people be installed and the park be renamed in consultation with area tribes. It did not include a formal recommendation, but coalition members are hopeful that momentum to rename the park will pick up now that the new City Council is seated and election season has passed.

It’s unclear if the letter was actually transmitted to the council, but if it was, it would be up to a member of the City Council to put the issue on the agenda to discuss the name of the park and whether it should be changed.

Lincoln Park’s upgrades were part of a $900 million makeover of the city’s Civic Center in Downtown that included a new City Hall, headquarters for the Port of Long Beach, a rebuilt main library and a new park, which opened to the public in February.

The city released renderings of the park in 2021 that showed a large penny that former Mayor Robert Garcia said he thought would be “one of our most Instagrammed moments and sites across the city.”

The penny, which city officials said cost about $168,000, has served as another painful reminder of Lincoln’s legacy, funmaker said.

“People call Lincoln ‘The Great Emancipator,'” Funmaker said, adding that he won’t bring his children to the park because of who it’s named for. “We call him the ‘The Great Executioner.'”

Long Beach could look at creating city commission for Native American issues

UPDATE: City commission calls for name change of Lincoln Park

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.