Deerfield Group Wants Park With Decades-Old Housing Inequality Ties Renamed

The group says "Deerfield today still has virtually no African American representation," stemming from what happened in the town more than 60 years ago.

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A group of Deerfield residents wants the village's park district to rename a park they say honors a man who more than 60 years ago actively prevented plans to integrate the community.

The land that Mitchell Park sits on in the north Chicago suburb was supposed to be a housing development with 20 percent of the homes set aside for African Americans.

But when the community found out about it in 1959, "this groundswell happened of people afraid of letting African Americans into our white community," said former Deerfield resident Gale Gand.

"In a 1959 referendum Deerfield residents voted overwhelmingly to prevent an integrated housing development in Deerfield from being completed," the Rename Mitchell Park group wrote on Facebook, "by condemning the property and using it instead for the park and pool we know today as Mitchell Pool and Mitchell Park."

At the time, famed photographer Art Shay, a Deerfield resident who worked at Life Magazine, documented the protests around the controversy. Eleanor Roosevelt came to Deerfield to help raise money for a lawsuit and reached out to Martin Luther King Jr., inviting him to have tea with her to talk about the issue.

"This was not a little local secret," Gand said. "This is a national issue, and 60 years later we still haven't really fixed it, healed from it, acknowledged it."

Rayan Falouji and several others started a Facebook page calling for the renaming of Mitchell Park, and within the last few weeks it has attracted more attention.

"We mean no disrespect towards James C. Mitchell," Falouji said. "It’s more about what he represents."

“Mitchell Park was Deerfield’s confederate statue that memorialized something from the past," former resident Amy Roost said. "That is not something we should feel proud about."

The issue of renaming Mitchell Park will be up for discussion at the park district's Thursday night board meeting.

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