WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - One of Wilmington’s oldest parks has a new name. New Hanover County Commissioners on Monday voted to change the name of Hugh MacRae Park. On Tuesday, the old signs bearing the previous name were taken down and new signs are set to be installed with the new name, Long Leaf Park, in the coming weeks.
Commissioner Jonathan Barfield made the motion to change the name of the park at the start of the commissioners’ meeting Monday evening.
“There’s been a lot of conversation over the last many years about Hugh MacRae Park and what the name symbolizes,” Barfield said. “I think it’s time that we change the name of the park, to change it to another name that can cause healing in our community. What we are looking at in our community is a new landscape, of healing and bringing everyone together and making sure that everyone has equity in the decisions being made.”
Commissioner Woody White said he supports the name change, but just not now, and is worried the move could create a “slippery slope.”
“The park is full of longleaf pines that are indicative of our region and the park is located in the Long Leaf area of our community,” Barfield said. “So this new name just seemed right, as a way to highlight the park’s location, the characteristics of our community, and the beauty of the longleaf pine.”
The commission ultimately voted 3-2 to change the name to Long Leaf Park, with Barfield, Commissioner Rob Zapple, and Chair Julia Olson-Boseman voting in favor while White and Commissioner Pat Kusek voting against.
The park was originally named after Hugh MacRae, a noted white supremacist who was deeply involved in the 1898 Wilmington massacre when an unspecified number of black people were killed by white men on a mission to take over the city.
MacRae and his wife, Rena, donated the land to the county on April 10, 1925, with the stipulation the property was for white people only. While black people started going to the park in the late 1960′s, it wasn’t until December 24, 1980, that Hugh Morton, an heir of Hugh MacRae’s, had the restrictions officially released.
MacRae’s great-granddaughter who now lives in Nashville says the news came as a surprise to her, thinking a discussion would come later. She says though, she’s pleased with the decision.
“When you’re asking me about how I feel about the family name, I think the important thing to convey is that it is a family name and there are parts to that family name that are associated with something that is painful for Wilmington and its traumatic for Wilmington and in that respect,” MacRae’s great-granddaughter says. “I’d rather see a different name there and a name that includes everyone.”
Hugh MacRae III, the great-grandson of MacRae, said earlier in the month that he was open to a conversation about changing the name and even met with Sonya Patrick and Beth Kline-Markesino who started a petition to rename the park.
After learning of the decision Monday evening, the younger MacRae was more reserved.
“Once the emotion and glamour of protests fades, and objectionable statues are removed, and names of things are changed, will it result in the betterment of folks’ lives,” MacRae asked in a text message to WECT.