Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Committee Approves Harriet Tubman Park

Proposal would rename Wahl Park on city's northwest side for famed abolitionist.

By - Sep 14th, 2020 04:50 pm
Wahl Park. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Wahl Park. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The renaming of Wahl Park to Harriet Tubman Park cleared its first hurdle Friday.

The Milwaukee County Board’s Parks, Energy and Environment committee approved a resolution from Sup. Sequanna Taylor that would rename the park on the northwest side of the City of Milwaukee.

Taylor said she proposed the new name because the park is in a neighborhood that is largely people of color, and she thinks it’s important for things like monuments and parks to reflect the residents that surround them.

Taylor said she talked to residents in the park and in the neighborhood, on a few occasions, about renaming the park and that Harriet Tubman was a name that came up more than once and “rang out.” Taylor wants to make the park an opportunity to celebrate the legacy of Tubman, saying that it will reflect her role as an abolitionist and leader on the Underground Railroad.

“The naming of a monument reflects who and what we think is important, as well as our values as a community,” Taylor wrote in her resolution, “and Milwaukee County is committed to ensuring that its monuments, including its parks, are named after those individuals or communities that reflect our County’s dedication to racial equity.”

Wahl Park was originally named for Christian Wahl. He was a 19th century German immigrant to Milwaukee who became heavily involved in the formation of the parks system here. Wahl was one of the major proponents of a parks system consisting of a constellation of parks as opposed to one massive park.

Whether or not Tubman ever passed through Milwaukee or the state is unclear, Taylor said. But the state was a well documented stop on the underground railroad. And the Samuel Brown Farm, located in what is now the Lindsay Heights neighborhood on the near North Side, was a stop for people that had escaped slavery in the country’s southern states.

Wahl was also famously in love with Lake Park. For years there was a bronze bust of him in Lake Park, until it was moved to the newly created Wahl Park in 1956.

While presenting her proposal for Harriet Tubman Park to the committee Friday, Taylor said she would formally ask that Wahl’s statue be maintained and moved to Lake Park “where his pride and joy seemed to be.”

Chair of the parks committee Sup. Sheldon Wasserman said the bust may not end up back in Lake Park. He said a supervisor on the board is working on a proposal to rename another park for Wahl, but did not offer details.

Taylor’s proposal next will go before the full board for approval at the end of the month. Renaming the park will require new signage and a fiscal note attached to Taylor’s proposal said it will cost nearly $10,000 to officially rename the park.

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