A local Washington, D.C. park and accompanying trail no longer bear the name of a former D.C. government official who worked to disenfranchise and marginalize Black residents throughout his career. Melvin Hazen — who the park was originally named after — served as president of the District of Columbia Board of Commissioners — effectively the mayor of D.C. — from 1933 to 1941.
During Hazen’s five decades in District government, he enacted policies displacing Black residents from neighborhoods in favor of white residents. Pressure to remove Hazen’s name from the park and trail connecting the Cleveland Park neighborhood to Rock Creek Park, began after a November 2020 Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 3F resolution called for Hazen’s name to be stripped from the park and trail.
The National Park Service (NPS) removed his name on Feb. 23. The park will indefinitely be called by its official name, Reservation 630, and Hazen’s name will also be removed from the park’s trail and garden.
Hazen aided in the displacement of Black residents from the Fort Reno Park area, according to a spokesperson from the NPS.
“Melvin Hazen was a leading force in the systematic dismantling of Reno City in Northwest Washington during the 1930s and 1940s,” the spokesperson wrote to The Hoya. “As president of the District of Columbia (DC) Board of Commissioners from 1933 to 1941, Melvin Hazen was instrumental in the displacement of Black residents from this area to create what is now Fort Reno Park.”
The removal of Hazen’s name comes alongside a greater push to rename public spaces named after racist figures in D.C. The District of Columbia Facilities and Commemorative Expressions (DCFACES) Working Group evaluated the District’s public schools, parks and government buildings in 2020 and recommended the removal of names from dozens of these spaces.
The park, trail and garden were named after Hazen in 1942 following his death.
According to Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who published a February 2021 press release calling for the NPS to change the name of the park, Hazen’s policies marginalized Black residents in D.C.
“Over the 51 years of his career, he held considerable influence and power over the development of D.C., and chose to wield this power by implementing a drastic urban planning strategy in Northwest D.C. that promoted segregation, prioritized all-white communities and marginalized African-American residents,” Norton wrote in the press release.
Policies Hazen implemented continue to influence the District today. Ward 3, where the park is located, is just 7% Black, while Black residents make up 46% of D.C.’s population.
Hazen’s actions are the antithesis of ANC 3F’s values, according to the resolution.
“ANC 3F feels that the name Melvin Hazen does not represent the kind of community which we feel we are and for which we strive to be – a community that values inclusivity and diversity, and one that condemns racism and xenophobia,” the resolution reads.
According to the NPS spokesperson, NPS has the ability to remove the name from the park.
“We have considered this history, as well as current law, regulation and policy that govern our actions, and we have concluded that the NPS has administrative authority to remove the name,” the spokesperson wrote.
NPS does not have the power to rename the park after another individual or group, the spokesperson said.
“We do not, however, have the authority to rename the park in honor of any person, group of persons, historic site or event because of restrictions laid out in the Commemorative Works Act of 1986 (CWA),” the spokesperson wrote.
While the removal of Hazen’s name is an important step in ensuring the District’s public spaces do not memorialize racist figures, the action should have taken place earlier, according to Norton.
“Labeling the majority African-American community in Reno City a ‘blight’ that was out of ‘harmony with the general plan for the District,’ Hazen orchestrated the demolition of this neighborhood, pushing African-American families out of the homes they owned in the District,” Norton wrote. “The removal of his name from Rock Creek Park is long overdue.”
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