Fifty years ago, the nine-room Lynwood Park Elementary and High School was closed as desegregation finally made its way to DeKalb County more than a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.
To commemorate that anniversary, Councilmember Linley Jones is working with residents and former students at the school to apply for a historical marker from the Georgia Historical Society to recognize the school’s contribution to the Civil Rights movement in Georgia.
At the Aug. 28 City Council meeting, the council readily voted to be a sponsor of the marker. The council also approved donating right of way at what is now the Lynwood Park Recreation Center on Osborne Road for the installation of a historical marker should the society approve the request later this year.
Jones said it is important to remember Lynwood Park’s history so children today and the future can understand what segregation really was.
Jones, who represents District 1 including Lynwood Park, said the hope is to have the marker also included on the Georgia Civil Rights Trail.
“We have several Civil War markers [in the city] but no Civil Rights markers,” Jones said.
Kathy Wells, a former resident and student of Lynwood Park and a retired DeKalb School principal from Montclair Elementary School, spoke to the council and thanked several people who worked on the Historical Society application, including other Lynwood Park students and residents Barbara Scott Shaw and Gary McDaniel.
She also thanked local historian Valerie Biggerstaff, who wrote “Images of America: Brookhaven” with former mayor Rebecca Chase Williams, for helping edit the words to go on the marker.
“The Lynwood Park community was the oldest and one of the most influential black communities in DeKalb County,” Wells told the council. “The history of the people in Lynwood Park is rich in strength, cohesiveness, determination, pride and values.”
Wells said it was important to understand Lynwood Park was once a black community surrounded by affluent white communities.
Today, the community has been gentrified and most black residents displaced as wealthy white Brookhaven residents moved in. Mayor John Ernst is a longtime Lynwood Park resident.
“I applaud Brookhaven for embracing the history of the oldest black community in DeKalb County and the only black community in Brookhaven especially in today’s times of gentrification,” Wells said in an interview.
DeKalb school desegregation began in 1967 under a “freedom of choice” plan that allowed students of any race to choose to attend any school. In practice, that meant some black students attending white schools, which often had better funding and facilities. The Lynwood Park school was forced to shut down in 1968 as part of “forced integration” into Cross Keys and Chamblee high schools, Jones said.
In 2016, Jones reached out to Lynwood Park residents to be part of the city’s first Martin Luther King Jr. event. The annual program now honors the Lynwood Park “integrators” with a gala dinner. Last year the keynote speaker of the event was DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond.
Lynwood Park’s first school goes all the way back to the 1940s, Wells told the council at the Aug. 28 meeting, when a “well-meaning white lady by the name of Minnie Lee Cates” donated money to build the school.
Then in 1949 residents of Lynwood Park saved their money and purchased 4 acres of land on Osborne Road for $1,500. The residents deeded the property to DeKalb Schools, Wells said.
Black students from Brookhaven, Doraville and Chamblee attended the school until 1968 when the school desegregated, Wells said. That school is now the Lynwood Park Recreation Center owned and operated by the city.
“I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors from Lynwood Park,” Wells said in an interview. “They taught us to endure, to love God, to value education, to stand strong and to love all people. It is our goal to preserve our history for generations to come long after gentrification … we want our children and the children of those who reside there now to know the power and strength of a proud people.”
The city is also prepared to sink nearly $11 million into Lynwood Park as part of the city’s $40 million parks bond going on the November ballot. If voters approve the referendum, Lynwood Park will get a new pool, splash pad, picnic pavilions, a parking space expansion, an open space field, natural play area, and basketball and tennis courts among other improvements and amenities.
City Manager Christian Sigman said the reason to dedicate 25 percent of the parks bond funding toward Lynwood Park is because the park has been neglected in the past.