City Council considering request to rename Heritage Park

A bench in honor of Dr. Judson S. Hill and Laura Yard Hill at Heritage Park. A group asked Morristown City Council to rename the park at Tuesday’s meeting.

More than a dozen offered instruction and reason to Morristown City Council members Tuesday afternoon, and appeared to have accomplished what they were unable to do previously – convince councilmembers to recognize Morristown College in the naming of Heritage Park.

The word heritage, several speakers told councilmembers, is often used with Confederate causes, events and efforts maintain monuments to Confederate Civil War soldiers, making the name inappropriate for the former site of Morristown College and, before that, a slave market.

Instead of Heritage Park, the group, which includes the Reunion of the Ages Alumni and their families, Men of Vision and the Morristown Task Force on Diversity, is recommending a new name, Legacy Park – Former Site of Morristown College.

A majority of councilmembers said Tuesday they support the name change.

Apart from perceived Civil War connotations, heritage is a work that unmistakably refers to the past, Tanika Bewley Walthall told councilmembers. Legacy is what Morristown College students and supporters bequeathed to the future, and the legacy of contribution is how the college should be remembered.

“To properly understand who we are and how we came to be, we have to be reconciled to our true history,” said Darlene Ely, president of the Reunion of the Ages. “Although none of the buildings remain, where the college proudly stood for 136 years the land is still invested with our spirit

“The significance of history should not be thought of as divisive,” Bewley added. “It is an integral part of the history of Morristown. Recognition and reconciliation of the truth will provide us with the transformative power to make Morristown what we all want it to be a robust, thriving, multicultural and diverse city.”

Those who addressed councilmembers Tuesday included representatives from Walters State Community College, local industry and churches, along with a PBS television personality and Morristown native.

Morristown Mayor Gary Chesney said this morning that councilmembers will have to formally vote to change the name, but he was impressed by the broad coalition who called for a name change at Heritage Park.

“What was educational for me is the word heritage invokes some painful historical memories for African Americans,” Chesney said. “The worked is used in Old South language to defendant rebel flags and confederate statues. I had not given that any thought. They helped me get educated on it a little bit, and it’s good to know. It broadens my understanding.”

The request for the name changes comes before any monument or directional signs have been ordered for the park.

“We just need gauge the merits of the proposal,” the mayor added. “We’ll consider it and weigh and measure it. If we’re all in agreement with some type of name change, we’ll iron out something, I think.”