Amid the city of Brookhaven’s plans to continue a conversation about race because of nationwide protests, Lynwood Park resident Barbara Shaw said she just wants some recognition for her historically Black neighborhood.
Shaw, who also grew up in the neighborhood and helped integrate DeKalb schools in the 1960s, said she thinks Mayor John Ernst could do a better job in including and supporting Lynwood Park, though she appreciates the support of Councilmember Linely Jones, whose district includes the neighborhood and who has helped recognize the history of the area.
“He doesn’t put enough ‘oomph’ in helping us when you start thinking of the old Black history of Lynwood Park,” Shaw said. “He doesn’t support us like I would love for him to do.”
Ernst last month said the city was “actively listening” to residents about their input to make the city more inclusive. Now, city officials are in the planning stages of possibly creating a commission on race relations and holding community dinners to continue conversations on race.
No concrete plans have been made yet, spokesperson Burke Brennan said. Shaw worries that residents of Lynwood Park could miss out on opportunities for those conversations because of lack of access to computers or the internet.
Ernst, who lives in Lynwood Park, said he has never had anyone call or mail him a letter about not having access to attend virtual events or meetings and supports all of Jones’ efforts to recognize the neighborhood.
“We have always recognized the historical significance of Lynwood Park and continue to do so,” Ernst said. “We walked that walk from the beginning.”
Historical recognition for Lynwood Park
Black residents settled Lynwood Park in the 1930s. Considered DeKalb County’s oldest Black community, it is located north of Windsor Parkway and bordered by Nancy Creek and the Fulton County line. During 1960s desegregation, Lynwood Park students, who are now recognized as “Lynwood Trailblazers,” integrated schools, and the community has been a former home to celebrities, such as comedian George Wallace and Olympic gold medalist Mel Pender.
Part of the reason why Jones wants to recognize Lynwood Park’s history is because of gentrification of the neighborhood, which she said started in the early 2000s.
“It resulted in a significant displacement of a lot of the longtime residents,” Jones said. “But there are still many longtime residents in the community, and so it’s very important to me as the council representative to remember and honor the history of Lynwood Park and the residents.”
Jones said the city hasn’t done anything to stop the gentrification in the neighborhood because “people have the right to buy and sell property.” Jones has worked for historical recognition for the area, including applying for a historical marker, planning for more historical signs and implementing a Martin Luther King Jr. Day dinner celebration.
Shaw said she has also noticed gentrification as the neighborhood has grown and worries about the developers who come into the area just to sell houses. She remembers the neighborhood being a friendly and safe place growing up, where residents could call their neighbors for help and not worry about locking their doors at night.
Now, the culture of the neighborhood has changed with more people who mostly keep to themselves, Shaw said, but she said she hopes the neighborhood can still come together to recognize its history.
“It’s a beautiful neighborhood,” Shaw said. “We all try to get along here, and we really are trying to preserve this history.”
Jones and current and former residents applied for a historical marker from the Georgia Historical Society in 2018 to recognize the former Lynwood Elementary and High School, which was a segregated school for Black students and is now the Lynwood Park Recreation Center.
Jones said the city was rejected but encouraged to apply for the marker again because the process is very competitive. She plans to put in another application, and if she cannot get statewide recognition at the recreation center, she wants the city to recognize the building as historic.
As a “Lynwood Trailblazer” and 50 years out of high school, where she spent her later years in the formerly all-White Cross Keys High School, Shaw hopes the history of her old school will be recognized.
During renovations to the Lynwood Park Recreation Center in 2019, Jones said the city improved the building in a way that didn’t destroy the history, such as adding the Lynwood school insignia on the floor of the gym.
“The original plan for Lynwood Park would have made it nearly unrecognizable,” Jones said.
Jones also wants to add “significant signage” at the entrance of the neighborhood to recognize its Black history and add an “established date” for the community, which Ernst said he supports. She said the signs would also help slow traffic coming into the residential community.
Shaw said she and other residents appreciate Jones’ fight to preserve the history of her community.
Days of celebration
The city also started a Martin Luther King Day dinner six years ago to honor the Civil Rights activist and also the “Lynwood Trailblazers.” Jones said the annual event is always popular and brings back former Lynwood Park residents. In 2020, the keynote speaker was former resident James Brown Sr., who was the Federal Reserve Bank’s first Black officer in 1976.
Before the city incorporated, Shaw said the neighborhood has had Lynwood Park Community Day, in which former residents return for a parade. In 2018, the community day was in its 40th year.
Shaw said she would like to see more participation on the community day from new Lynwood Park residents, including Ernst. She said she and the Lynwood Park Foundation, which is an organization that aims to honor the history of the neighborhood, have not felt welcome to meet with Ernst despite trying.
Ernst said he has always attended the Martin Luther King Day dinner and Lynwood Park Day and has only missed one because of a conflicting MLK Day event. In the recent months, he said, Jones has been meeting with the Lynwood Park Foundation.
Ernst said the city is moving forward in conversations about race relations. He and the council have not worked on details on what a race relations commission could look like, but City Councilmember Madeleine Simmons said she wants it to be able to “make meaningful recommendations and effectuate change.”
The community dinners will be hosted by virtually Civic Dinners, a company that helps clients plan and format dinners and conversations about varying social topics. Brookhaven hosted a Civic Dinners meeting in September 2019 about welcoming immigrants and plans to use that as a model for the upcoming one on race.
“We want to continue the conversation on racial justice and ensure it is not just lip service,” Simmons said.
Brookhaven Planning Commissioner John Funny came up with the idea of the commission, Simmons said. Simmons also invited Funny to participate in a June 29 town hall with her about racial justice and equality, where they discussed the importance of having candid conversations about race.
For the Civic Dinners conversation, members of the community would “gather” for a meal over video call to discuss big community issues in light of the protests.
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul is using the Civic Dinners program to continue conversations about race in his city as well.
Brennan said participants would agree on a date and restaurant, and a meal would be delivered to their location and the meeting would take place via video call to adhere to COVID-19 safety precautions.