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Friday, September 29, 2023
Sept. 29, 2023

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Jayne: Sensitivity, compromise called for in naming of park

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

It is simply a name, one that is distinguished in these parts yet has become problematic for the city of Vancouver.

City officials are planning to christen a future park in honor of Ed and Dollie Lynch, longtime philanthropists who are as deserving of acknowledgment as anybody. Dollie Lynch died in 2010 and Ed Lynch in 2015, and they donated land for the park with the understanding that it would be labeled in honor of their family.

The issue is that name. Lynch, er, lynch has a negative connotation. That’s what happens when a word comes to mean extrajudicial hangings often accompanied by torture. According to the Tuskegee Institute, some 4,743 people were lynched between 1882 and 1968 in the United States, about three-quarters of them African-American and about three-quarters of them in the South.

This practice was celebrated. The website AmericanLynchingData.com shows a 1916 newspaper from Texas with the lead headline blaring “FIFTEEN THOUSAND SAW NEGRO BURN,” and pictures of mutilated bodies hanging from trees often would accompany the reports. There is no shortage of photos showing lynchings attended by the whole town, as if it were a community picnic.

Needless to say, this is an ugly piece of American history. Needless to say, it particularly resonates with African-Americans.

And while that has nothing to do with Ed and Dollie Lynch, it has much to do with the park that is planned for northwest Vancouver.

It also has much to do with how this nation is attempting to reconcile its past, balancing educational history with modern mores. At a time when monuments to the Confederacy are slowly but rightly being relegated to museums rather than the public square, the manner in which we display our history is under scrutiny.

That has people concerned about the prospect of Lynch Park urging the city to reconsider. “The attempt to separate the word and the surname erases history,” Cecilia Towner of Black Lives Matter Vancouver told The Columbian. “The word, deed and name began intertwined and they continue to be … at least for black people.”

Last year, the Centennial School District near Portland renamed three elementary schools — Lynch Meadows, Lynch Wood and Lynch View — to extricate the negative connotation. Like the proposed Lynch Park, it was named for a family and not some abhorrent history.

No simple solution

But we digress. The difficulty surrounding the Vancouver park is that there are no clear solutions. Lynch Park would, understandably, call to mind a painful history for many Americans, both black and white. And if that history is traumatic for some of our neighbors, who are we to tell them they are wrong? The most insensitive among us will decry political correctness, but sometimes political correctness is simply correctness. The alternative is being incorrect and intentionally offending people.

In that regard, it is much different from the issue of Confederate monuments in the South. Guess what: Confederates were traitors who fought against the United States in defense of slavery and lost. They deserve to be remembered but not honored, and commemorative statues of them are tributes to people who were losers — both morally and militarily.

The same cannot be said of Ed and Dollie Lynch, who have posthumously been dragged into a controversy not of their making. As their son, Michael, said, “Our hope is one day the park will benefit our entire community while honoring Ed and Dollie Lynch as it was intended and promised to them over 15 years ago.”

In the end, city officials should listen to concerns on both sides, and advocates should strive for compromise. If the official name is Ed and Dollie Lynch Memorial Park and locals shorten it to Memorial Park and the area includes a plaque or a statue honoring their vast contributions to the community … well, that might be the best we can do.

Because sometimes a name is more than simply a name.