Group requests Hadley Park be renamed after Nashville civil rights leader

Hadley Park sign
hadley park museum
Posted at 11:39 AM, Apr 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-06 23:54:10-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation is meeting via teleconference Tuesday morning to hear a request by the Metropolitan Minority Caucus to rename Hadley Park to “Kwame Leo Lillard Park.”

Ms. Sharon W. Hurt, president of the Metropolitan Minority Caucus made the formal request to rename the park which opened in 1912. The park which sits on 28th Avenue in North Nashville has been the focus of a name change by others for years.

The recent name change would honor the late Kwame Lillard who died last December. Lillard was 81 when he passed, leaving behind a long legacy of civil rights activism in Tennessee. Lillard was not only a Freedom Rider, but the former Metro Councilman also helped to orchestrate sit-ins during the civil rights movement.

David Ewing is a Nashville historian and knew Lillard well before his death. He says this is a welcomed change for a community eager to show appreciation for those who dedicated their lives for social justice.

"We can't forget giants like Kwame who was a Freedom Rider. Who literally risked his life to get on a Greyhound bus, to go down to Mississippi and register Black people to vote. Anytime we can honor our history, it's a good thing," Ewing said.

It starts with getting the facts of our history straight and Ewing says there's still a lot of confusion over where the name Hadley originated from.

For years many have attributed the name to a slave owner John L. Hadley, but Ewing says it was actually William Hadley who owned the property where we now find the park. William is said to have owned slaves in the 1800s and after he died, the property was transferred to his daughter.

Years later and Dr. William Abrums Hadley would become a well-known physician in the North Nashville area. Ewing says Dr. Hadley graduated from Meharry University, grew up in the neighborhood and even raised his family not far from the park.

By 1912, then Mayor Hilary Howse helped to purchase the property as the only park designated for African Americans. Most parks were segregated at the time, so Ewing says this park became an oasis for people of color.

"Hadley Park was a park always of pride for the African American community," Ewing said.

When it came time to name the park, Ewing says mayor Howse knew it would only complicate matters to name the park after a Black man. Mayor Howse chose Hadley Park, knowing both sides could choose to interpret the name any way they want.

"The African Americans, they probably thought this was named after their guy. Some whites who would have been upset, said it was named after some guy who used to own the land. Even though he hadn't owned the land since 1887," Ewing said.

More than a century later and now Nashville will soon have a decision to make.

In the next few days, people in Nashville should get a notice requesting public comment. There will be a 30-day period where you can write a letter, send an email, leave a voicemail or simply join the board for their next meeting on May 4th. The hope is by then the meeting can be in person.

The board can only make a recommendation based on public comment and then submit a petition to the Tennessee Historical Commission for a vote.