By Virginia Campbell
Lincoln Park used to be a safe space for the African American community to enjoy themselves. In fact, before integration in the 60s, it was the only park in Chattanooga they were allowed in. The property is currently owned by Erlanger, who have built parking lots over most of the park, reducing it down to just five acres. Compared to the original twenty acre plot, it’s now a mere skeleton.
Tiffany Rankin grew up in the area and remains a resident in the neighborhood adjacent to the park. She has always been a community leader, but she started to get heavily involved and raise awareness for the park when she heard the City of Chattanooga was planning to extend Central Avenue. The road would cut into a boundary of the park, sizing it down further. The plan was to “urbanize” the area, which, to Tiffany and many others in the community, meant displacement and gentrification.
Rankin formed the Save Lincoln Park Coalition in 2001, in hopes of preserving the park from further construction. “We had a lot of people involved, just reflecting on the historical, because what we were trying to do is get it historically preserved, because it wasn’t at that time, and we couldn’t file for historical preservation,” she says. “Nobody was doing anything.”
Joe Paden, a member of the coalition, explains the complexity of trying to get the park back in the hands of the neighborhood. “There’s a lot of parties involved. And the most important parties often get kind of ignored, which is the community folks,” he says.
Paden became involved in the coalition after hearing Rankin give a statement at a city council meeting in 2016. He says it was his “baptism” into what was going on in Chattanooga, and has been involved ever since.
Rankin emphasizes how much help Paden has been, but it’s continued to reveal the subtle inequalities Rankin has been met with when advocating. “It’s a shame that an African American can’t come up to speak but when Joe comes up to speak it’s like their ears open and they wanna listen,” she says.
When the coalition first formed, they had the backing of the Concerned Citizens for Justice, as well as Chattanooga Organized for Action. As the years have gone by, the urgency has continued to face.
“They hold off until you give up and then they just move quicker, and quietly by you,” says Rankin. “That’s why I’m still raising my hand here every now and then asking a question.”
They are currently waiting on the National Environmental Policy Act to give word on their proposal before they can go forward to the Historical Association.
Rankin admits she has been discouraged by the slow process and the dwindling community involvement. “The people are living in dismal times as far as not believing their voices can be heard,” she says, referring to the African American community.
Although she admits she’s not sure how much of a morale boost will come from the park’s preservation, Rankin says the best way to move the process forward is getting more young people involved. “Let me get in touch with them if they are willing to get involved. How do you get someone excited, a young person, excited about wanting to protect their community?”
Rankin worries about the future of the park and whether she can save it at all. She says, “In the future maybe 30 or 40 years as the process continues…[the park] may just be another plaque sitting over there, and development wiped out.”
The History of Lincoln Park
By Maggie Long
Though segregation ended merely sixty years ago, many significant historical developments for the African American community during that time period have been lost today. Chattanooga offers no exception.
In 1918, many decades after the formation of black codes and Jim Crow laws, the city of Chattanooga opened Lincoln Park. For the first time, black residents in the area had a safe, community-oriented recreational area they could call their own.
“[Lincoln Park] was the first and only park that was designated for black people to attend during segregation,” Chattanooga resident Sandra Clay says. “ So this was a place that for black people meant a lot.”
The original park included a playground, pavilion, carousel, baseball field, and refreshment stand. Development continued several decades after the park’s opening, and in 1938, a $60,000 Olympic-sized pool opened easing the South’s scorching summer heat.
Lincoln Park’s cultural significance did not stop at Chattanooga. An independence celebration in 1947 brought around 15,000 people from all over the South according to the Chattanooga Observer, a black newspaper at the time.
Out of town visitors were not reserved for special occasions. Lincoln Park residents recall busloads of people from Atlanta, Nashville, and Birmingham arriving for the park’s “amusement rides, mini-zoo, and Ferris wheel in the 1940s and 1950s.”
Another early attraction at Lincoln Park was a lighted baseball field. In 1920, Chattanooga joined nine other cities throughout the South to form the Negro Southern Baseball League. Lincoln Park became one of the two most prominent baseball fields in the area following Andrew’s Field where Engel Stadium now stands.
Beyond becoming a substantial pastime and social hub for the community, Lincoln Park produced some of the greatest baseball stars in recent history. Satchel Paige, named one of the greatest pitchers of all time and Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, made his debut at Andrew’s field for the Chattanooga White Sox in 1926. Records suggest Paige would have stepped foot in Lincoln Park to have used the restroom facilities or to practice on the baseball field.
Willie Mays, two-time National League MVP and Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, watched the Chattanooga Choo-Choos play in Lincoln Park in high school. The time seemed influential as Mays later joined the team in the 1940s.
Tennis was another activity at Lincoln Park that provided leisure pastime, while producing another sports star. Wylma Mcghee Reid, a Chattanooga local, is said to have played in Lincoln Park growing up. She later became a national tennis champion, noted as the first in Chattanooga to do so.
It wasn’t until desegregation in the 1960s that Lincoln Park came to lose visitors and city support. Sandra Clay did not think the attractions or park lost their appeal. Rather, she believes the community was given something they had not yet tasted.
“The freedom to be able to do something different … that’s what happened. The reason why the park kinda started declining was because people had other options, you know, of other places that they couldn’t go,” she says.
Though the park has descended from its prime, community members such as Clay remember it as a space: “you didn’t have to worry about everywhere else in the city… you could just be free to not even have to feel the stresses of segregation.”
Virginia Campbell is a graduating senior with a communications degree at UT Chattanooga. She is a writer and storyteller, with a background in live audio that’s taught her how to adapt quickly and work under pressure. She aspires to work in feature journalism. If you have a story that needs to be heard, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Emanuel Drinkard is a Multimedia Producer currently attending the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga pursuing his BA in Communications. Drinkard specializes in videography and video editing. His passion for helping others drives his lens to frame the unnoticed voices of the community. This can be seen in stories such as “Legacy of Grief”, where Drinkard spent several weeks connecting with the McAllister family to tell their personal story of grief and loss. His work also extends to youth in need. In summer 2021 he worked as Photography Supervisor at a resident camp in Colorado, capturing timeless memories for the next generation. For business inquiries or any questions you can contact Mark Drinkard at email@example.com.
Maggie Weaver is a photojournalist and audio storyteller based out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Weaver uses her leadership and artistic skills to tell stories about the human experience and raw compassion through her camera lens. Her experience working with WUTC’s Scenic Roots continues to inspire her to tell others’ stories who cannot do so themselves. To contact Maggie, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maggie Long is a multi-media producer at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with specialties in journalism and screenwriting. As an Integrated Studies student in Communication and Sociology, Maggie’s goals revolve around her belief intentional, sourced communication can help alleviate social injustices, such as income inequality, racial and gender discrimination, and environmental destruction, that affect her local community and world at large. Maggie has dedicated her time at UTC to these causes, developing professional writing skills as well as the creative component necessary to imagine and create a better world. Maggie can be reached at email@example.com for any questions, concerns, or collaboration inquiries.
Rebecca Bogdan is a multimedia specialist studying Communications at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Bogdan has an interest in photojournalism, podcasting, and social media management. She is also deeply involved within the event industry and hopes to pursue a future career in event management. To contact Rebecca with any questions or interests email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Serretta Malaikham has studied Communications at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is an experienced multimedia journalist and photographer due to her time with the University Echo and Rising Rock Media at UTC. She has a passion for storytelling and uplifting the voices in the community we tend to overlook.