Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Johnsons Park To Be Renamed

Or actually expanded, to include first names of the park's current namesakes.

By - Sep 19th, 2022 03:14 pm
Johnsons Park. Photo from Milwaukee County.

Johnsons Park. Photo from Milwaukee County.

The Milwaukee County Board’s Finance Committee approved changing the name of Johnsons Park, or rather, completing the name.

The committee recommended approval of a proposal from Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson that would change the name from Johnsons Park to Clarence and Cleopatra Johnson Park. The park, in fact, is already named for Clarence and Cleopatra; the change would simply make clear that the park is named for them.

The Johnsons were the owners of Ideal Tailor shop, which was “one of the few black businesses that survived the Great Depression Era,” according to Nicholson’s resolution.

“The Johnsons were pillars in the community and worked to improve the quality of life in their community through recreation, activities, baseball, and swimming competitions,” the resolution states.

County residents have been reaching out to county supervisors for years seeking to have Clarence and Cleopatra’s full names on the park. Clayborn Benson, executive director of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society and museum, was one such resident. He told the committee Thursday that he thinks it is “crucially important” for the Johnsons full names to be used, given how common the last name Johnson is, so they can be afforded proper recognition.

The Johnsons were involved in founding the North Central Branch of the YMCA — now the Northside YMCA at 1350 W. North Ave. — as well as the Columbia Savings and Loan Association, which has been operating since 1924 and is currently located at 2020 W. Fond Du Lac Ave.

“The impact of the legacy that Clarence and Cleopatra Johnson have within the community is monumental and they deserve to be honored appropriately by their first names, celebrated, and acknowledged,” Nicholson’s resolution stated.

The proposal seeks to use $9,750 from the county’s contingency fund for the project. Whether or not the board should tap this account for funds has been regularly debated by supervisors. The Office of the Milwaukee County Comptroller has been basing their year-end budget projections on the assumption that all the funds in this account will be used to backfill a budget deficit at the end of the year. With that assumption, the comptroller has been projecting a deficit, but recently began projecting the county breaking-even by the end of the year.

Despite the small funding amount, relative to other county spending, supervisors on the Finance Committee once again debated whether it should go forward given the money comes from the contingency fund. Sup. Shawn Rolland suggested the board wait to consider the item until after the 2023 budget is finalized, as the board will begin deliberations for the next years budget in the coming weeks. Sup. Steve Taylor suggested the item be considered for funding in the 2023 budget instead of from the contingency account.

Sup. Willie Johnson, Jr. noted that the spending item was less than $10,000, while the committee had approved hundreds of thousands in spending from the contingency account to pay Racine County to accept transfers from the Milwaukee County Jail earlier in the meeting. Sup. Sequanna Taylor said, “It just seems like… we often pick and choose what are those things we’re going to push forward and what are we not going to do.”

After supervisors began suggesting the item be laid over, Nicholson joined the meeting, saying, “And I quite frankly, did not expect that we would get into this discussion, which is why I did ask someone on the committee to you know, move this item. Hearing that we’re debating whether or not this is worthy of funds that we have available to us, is actually concerning for me and I agree with First Vice Chair [Sequanna] Taylor, when I do see a pattern of sometimes we choose when to fund and not to fund from our contingencies account.”

Nicholson asked the committee to move the proposal forward, saying that county residents like Benson have been asking for the project for years. “The community wants this,” she said, “they want to see it, they need it, there’s a lot of hope that we can give to our community, a lot of representation that we can provide for our community.”

The committee recommended approval on a five to two vote, with Rolland and Steve Taylor voting against. The full county board must still vote on the proposal, but is expected to approve it.

Categories: MKE County, Parks, Weekly

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