Dear PoPville – “Why is Meridian Hill Park sometimes called Malcolm X Park?”

meridian_hill_malcolm_x_park

@Andrew_Flick tweets us:

“Why is Meridian Hill Park sometimes called Malcom X Park?”

A question we’ve been debating for quite a long time. One commenter has said:

“From the Historic American Bldgs Survey: “The park is also known as Malcolm X Park, however, that name cannot be officially adopted because the name of a park with a presidential memorial [President James Buchanan] cannot be officially changed under federal regulations.”

The National Parks Service says:

“The park has had a long and varied history. In 1819, John Porter erected a mansion on the grounds and called it “Meridian Hill” because it was on the exact longitude of the original District of Columbia milestone marker, set down on April 15, 1791 at Jones Point, Virginia by Major Andrew Ellicott assisted by Benjamin Banneker, an African-American astronomer and mathematician. It was to this mansion that John Quincy Adams moved when he left the White House in 1829. At that time, the entire high ground surrounding the park was known as “Meridian Hill.”

Construction was begun in 1914, but it was not until 1936 that Meridian Hill reached the full status of a formal park. In 1933 the grounds were transferred to the National Park Service.”

In 2008 Washingtonian reported:

“A leader of the Black United Front began referring to the park in honor of the civil-rights leader on the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., says Simone Moffett, cultural-resource specialist for Rock Creek Park, the organization that deals with administrative issues for Meridian Hill. DC residents later voted for the name to be officially changed to Malcolm X. A bill to change the name was introduced to Congress in January 1970, says Moffett, but didn’t pass.”

So what do you guys call it, Meridian Hill, Malcolm, Malcolm X Park or Meridian Hill/Malcolm X park?

48 Comment

  • Most of my friends grew up in DC and call it Malcolm X Park, so it may be more of when you came to the city to what you call it. Kinda like some people call National airport by the name we will not name.

  • What do you call the park located at on 15th/16th St NW between Florida Ave and Euclid?

    Other: “The St. Ronald Reagan Freedom Memorial Park & Trickle-Down Fountain”

    • Thats good! but don’t forget to add “The St. Ronald Reagan Freedom Memorial Park & Trickle-Down Fountain & Gay Sex For Dugs, Shoot Em’ Up, Acro-Yoga & Clown School, Malcom-X Drummers, Latin Footbol Club, Stay Off The Grass, Where Did All These White People Come From Lawns, Park”

    • Spike Lee talks about this sort of thing happening in New York right now a lot, the inclination of Gentrifiers to change the names of geographical regions that have existed long before they moved in…

      To me, it is Malcolm X park, and that shouldn’t be debated. Places like this exist to commemorate points in history, although Malcom X signifies a contentious time in history, he was born out of a horrible, horrible struggle just to gain equality, not to be superior. He did not serve to commit genocide nor wrongful conflict, he had many very wise quotes that anyone could benefit from in life and he was wrongfully and brutally murdered, yet ignorant people who don’t know about him may consider preventing him from being memorialized… Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Lets not forget that as we talk about wars in other countries with the “utmost” political concern and realize that all loss of life is significant and telling as to how we should live.

      • And long before Malcolm X fans moved in, it was Meridian Hill Park.

      • “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
        .
        On the other hand, those who can’t forget the past have a hard time letting it go. As with most things, I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle.

      • Umm… What? “Meridian Hill” existed long before people called it Malcolm X. If you refer to the 1,000 people who voted in the poll that call it Meridian Hill as “gentrifiers” – - what do you call the people who unofficially began calling it Malcolm X? “It shouldn’t be debated” is a weird thing to say, especially since it’s not even the real name… Has nothing to do with Malcolm X’s legacy.

  • I’ve lived near the park for most of the last 15 years. I may have heard someone call it Malcolm X once or twice, and in discussions of the name like this, but mostly I hear Meridian Hill. I also call the airport National with no further identification!

  • I’m third generation native Washingtonian and I’ve lived near the Park for most of my 60 years. I currently live about a block from it. The Park was informally given the hypenated name by a group that used to hold a black power festival there every year, it was called African Liberation Day. Each spring thousands of folks from across the country would converge on the Park to hold a huge festival celebrating Malcolm X, African and African American culture. I remember one year Stokley Carmichael (Kwame Toure) was a guest speaker. There would be food, music, speeches, crafts to purchase, etc. It was a fun, family-oriented and informative day that we looked forward to every spring. In honor of Malcolm they just started calling the park Meridian Hill/Malcolm X and the name just stuck. They printed it on their flyers for the festival and when people drove into the city looking for the park (remember this was back in the day before GPS) they would ask where was Malcolm X Park – everyone knew that they were looking for Meridian Hill. I don’t think it was ever formalized by the Park Service – just an informal name change done by the folks that held the festival. The hypenated name just stuck with the community, they kept it and that’s the name everyone used. I don’t believe that the Park Service will ever change the name – the Park was originally and formally built by the Henderson family and it is their (and the Park Service’s right) to name it whatever they want.

    • Emilie504

      Thanks for the interesting history!

    • What I call the park changes with the time period that I’m describing. When I was a little kid, we used to go to Meridian Hill Park to see the fireworks, and to hang out on summer evenings. When I was a HS and college student, I used to hang out with my friends at Malcolm X Park. As someone else has said, I think the nomenclature varies with age, ethnicity, and the time period when someone lived in the city. My parents, for example, who were both born here, referred to it as Meridian Hill Park, and never changed.

  • Ive lived in the DC area my entire life and have heard it called Meridian Hill only once or twice aside from this website

  • I call my house the Embassy of Texas but that doesn’t make it so.
    .
    People can call the park whatever they want but the DC government (which erected that blue sign above) should stick to calling it the official, legal name which is Meridian Hill Park.

    • If a park so has an official name, but people call the park another name, what merit is there in the name being so?

      I have always called it Meridian Hill Park and have lived here since the late 1980s. Though I know it also has the name Malcolm X Park.

      It’s like the airport: National and Reagan, or an admixture.

  • I call it both. I grew up in the area and moved into the city about 20 years ago.

  • Clearly, we need to add them both to a metro station name to clear up any confusion:
    “U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo/Meridian Hill Park/Malcolm X Park, doors opening left side.”

  • What you call the park appears to be a function of the person’s age and ethnicity.

  • And it’s called Meridan Hill because 16th Street follows a line of merdian, though I don’t recall which one.

    • 16th Street (and it’s theoretical continuation north and south to the poles) was the USA’s prime meridian until some time after the war of 1812. It was 0 degrees of longitude on our maps. After throwing off British colonial rule, we were not about to acknowledge the line going through Greenwich, England as the starting point for cartography and navigation.

  • More importantly, what did James Buchanan ever do to deserve a memorial?

    • Nothing, which is why he’s hiding out in the corner and not sitting on a huge pedestal. ;-)

    • When his niece (who had been acting “first lady) died around 1900, she left $100,000–a tidy sum in those days–for a memorial to be built. There was little enthusiasm for that but she stipulated that the funds were to be spent by 1918 or they would revert to another charity. So congress relented and erected the monument there, around the time the park was first established.

    • He was the first gay President. He was fairly “out” about it.

  • A compromise is in order… perhaps “Malcolm X Field at Meridian Hill Park.”

  • I moved into the park area about when this casual name turnover happened. It seems to be mostly due to the efforts of the Meridian Hill Neighborhood Association, who spearheaded the cleanup and restoration of the park.

  • If you really want it to emulate a Malcolm X theme , put up statues of W.E.B. Dubois and Huey Newton, not Dante and Joan of Arc.

  • I believe the full name of the group to which you refer in this article as “Black United Front” is called the *National* Black United Front. They just had an event celebrating their 35th anniversary at Howard University about a week and a half ago.

    I’ve always called it Malcolm X Park because that’s what everyone called it when I moved into that area in the late 90s.

  • I call it “James Buchanan Park” in honor of our first gay president.

  • I think many people call it “Malcom X Park” because it’s clearly a much cooler name than “Meridian Hill,” it annoys the kind fo people who we don’t like and confers insider status on those who know the name not printed on maps.
    .
    Interestingly, Google Maps doesn’t use the name, but if you punch “Malcom X Park” into your phone, “Meridian Hill Park” will come up. Clearly, in any discussion of the park’s proper name, whatever Google declares correct, is correct. Sorry Malcom!

  • Why not call it Meridian Hill Park and build a Malcolm X statue? Seems like a good compromise. I think building it at the northern most part of the park makes sense since it could be fairly prominent. It would be directly across the fields from Joan of Arc and would make it the closest monument to the Howard U dorm.

    • That reminds me, I do on occasion call this place ‘Joan of Arc Park.’ Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?

  • CM once had his license suspended for habitual speeding/reckless driving. The fact he is given a pulpit to opine on road issues/safety is ridiculous. Dude has 0 credibility.

  • At the intersection of Martin Luther Kings and Malcolm X Avenue SE is a popular picnic area in the heart of Congress Heights which is technically part of the much larger, mostly wooded Shepherd Parkway.

    “Malcolm X Park” would be a great name for it if that name were not already taken.

  • This park was reclaimed by African Americans that ascribed to the Uhuru Movement, the political organization centered around the principles of Pan-Africanism. Much like Kunta Kinte was given a slave name of “Toby”, the AA’s that used to drum to their ancestors reclaimed the part and called in Malcolm X Park. Taking back their culture/humanity after the European slave traders enslaved Africans from Africa and gave them Anglicized Names.

  • It would be interesting to see how your polling results breakdown by age and ethnicity. Attending college in DC as a undergraduate back in the 1970′s, I and most of my fellow students attending Antioch (undergrad not the law school), Federal City College and Howard referred to the park as Malcolm X. That was a politically conscious, Afrocentric era and Malcolm’s memory was central to many of us in the African-American community. Rallies against apartheid and concerts featuring the likes of Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds as well as Sweet Honey in the Rock underscored that sentiment.

    I’m left to wonder if the prevalence in your poll in referring to the park as Meridian Hill is another sign of the times, as the population of the neighborhood and the District shifts again along ethnic lines; in this case, Eurocentric.

    Though I think of and refer to the park as Malcolm X, I also find myself calling it Meridian Hill especially to newcomers to the District since it might be the only name they know it by.

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