Thursday, November 26, 2020
Nov. 26, 2020

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Vancouver finds compromise in ‘Lynch Park’ naming debacle

Plot of land donated by local philanthropists to be called “Dollie and Ed’s Park”

By , Columbian staff writer

The Vancouver City Council put to rest a 2-year-old debate Monday night over whether to name a future public park after the couple who donated it, despite the couple’s accidentally offensive name.

Their compromise: Yes, but with a caveat. The 9.5-acre plot of land in northwest Vancouver, donated in 2002 by prolific local philanthropists Ed and Dollie Lynch, will henceforth be known as “Dollie and Ed’s Park.”

Using the couple’s first names circumvents the controversy over naming the park after the Lynches. That prospect had initially drawn protest from the community, especially among people of color.

“We did have community engagement and we reached out to many individuals who had given testimony on this quite some time ago,” Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said at the virtual city council meeting Monday evening.

Over the last 35 years, the Lynches have donated millions of dollars to various public projects including the Providence Academy preservation and a therapy garden at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. When they died — Dollie in 2010, Ed in 2015 — they left 98 percent of their sizable estate to local causes and charities. The Community Foundation of Southwest Washington continues to dole out grants on their behalf.

The couple donated the land near their home nearly two decades ago. As part of the informal deal, the city council at the time had promised to name the park after its benefactors.

A letter from Community Foundation for Southwest Washington President Jennifer Rhoads, addressed to McEnerny-Ogle, reminded the city council of the body’s prior commitments.

“Although there is no written documentation, verbal promises were made by city employees and elected officials at that time to name the park after them,” Rhoads wrote. “In philanthropy, we honor intent and promises made in written and verbal form.”

The controversy arose in 2018, however, when public documents aimed at promoting a sustainable citywide funding plan referred to the plot of land by a shortened version: Lynch Neighborhood Park.

Community members immediately objected to the name. Though they recognized that its connection to Ed and Dollie was benign, the word itself recalled the institutional abuse and murder of Black people through American history.

Lynching refers to death by public hanging without a proper legal trial, and it was disproportionately used against Black people. According to the NAACP, there are 3,446 confirmed cases of African American people being lynched between 1882 and 1968 on American soil, and more that haven’t been officially recorded.

In November and December 2018, residents attended city council meetings to protest the name.

“The attempt to separate the word and surname erases history,” Cecelia Towner, head of Black Lives Matter Vancouver, told the city council at the time. “The word, deed and name began intertwined, and they continue to be.”

Residents also proposed other potential names for the park, including Ed and Dollie Park, Ginkgo Park and Heroes’ Park.

In a discussion earlier this month, a few city councilors referred to the first-name-only moniker as a compromise that was fair to both the Lynch family and to the community members who had an emotional response to the word.

“There are a lot of people for whom the Lynch name is troublesome because the legacy in our country of lynching and what that represents to communities of color, and others, and I certainly empathize with that. But I also empathize with the Lynch family, who quite frankly were vilified because of their last name,” Councilor Erik Paulsen said.

He urged his colleagues to finally put the situation to rest.

“We can leave the Lynch name out of it. We can have a plaque in the park that explains who Ed and Dollie were and what their legacy in our community was, and we can avoid the sensitivity around the last name Lynch,” Paulsen said.

The city council’s vote for “Dollie and Ed’s Park” Monday evening was unanimous. They’ve also budgeted $6,000 for park signage bearing the new name.