Efforts to Rename Jackson Park Underway

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In August, Jude Deckenbach, Friends of Jackson Park (FoJP) executive director, introduced the idea of renaming Jackson Playground at an online meeting of the Potrero Boosters, a neighborhood group consisting of Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, and Showplace Square residents. 

“We are in touch with Jude and have shared our park renaming policy,” said Tamara Aparton, San Francisco Rec and Park spokesperson. “They must conduct a community outreach process to arrive at a name or possible list of names to be considered.” 

Deckenbach said FoJP wants to rename the park because its present designation commemorates U.S. president Andrew Jackson. 

“Jackson’s anti-abolitionism and forcible removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands, in addition to other contemptible traits and actions on his part, make him an undeserving and undesirable namesake of our beloved park,” said Deckenbach. 

Jackson Playground has been named for the former president since 1912, when the park was first dedicated for use by San Francisco children. 

Jackson, who “owned” human beings, caused the removal of roughly 100,000 Native Americans and enslaved people from Southeastern states to territory west of the Mississippi River. Between 1830 and 1850 the Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Ponca, and Ho-Chunk/Winnebago tribes were expelled from the South. At the time the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole peoples had laws limiting Black freedom, reestablishing slavery when they arrived in their new home. The “Trail of Tears” resulted in the death of upwards of 15,000 people. Thousands of Native Americans and Blacks suffered illnesses, financial damages, and the loss of family members on the journey west. 

Jackson’s actions were facilitated by federal legislation, including the Indian Removal Act, which Jackson signed into law in 1830. The relocation was enforced through acts of aggression against Native Americans and Blacks perpetrated by the U.S. Army and state militias.

Deckenbach said FoJP will consult with Native Tribes as part of the retitling process. “We will await their suggestions on the name change,” said Deckenbach. 

FoJP envisions creating a survey to solicit reactions to renaming proposals. 

“I feel that this process should 100 percent be conducted by and for the people that live in the Jackson Park community,” District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton said. “I will be here to support the process every step of the way, but this is a community decision.”

“Regardless of what is ultimately considered, we have an opportunity to give the park a name with a connection to the site,” said J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president. 

Early conversations about possible designations have centered on local Native Tribes, including place names for villages that once occupied the area. Dr. Jonathan Cordero, founder and executive director of the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone, a group that represents indigenous people of the San Francisco peninsula, said that local Native peoples should be consulted about possible tribal names. 

“We would have to discuss this more internally, but I gather we would rather not use our ancestral village names for a park,” said Cordero. 

Sharaya Souza, American Indian Cultural District executive director, said the Native community would like to develop a relationship with FoJP and collaborate with it before taking a position on a name change. 

“We are honored FoJP is pursuing a name change. We would like to make sure that American Indian initiatives are done with American Indian people and not for American Indian people,” said Souza. 

In 2017, Rec and Park opened In Chan Kaajal Park, located at 3100 17th Street, the name for which is a nod to Mayan heritage and culture. In Chan Kaajal means “little village.” The designation is meant to recognize the growing Mayan community that came from the Yucatan peninsula and settled in the Mission. The commons had been called “17th & Folsom Street Park.” The San Francisco Rec and Park Commission renamed it in 2016 after going through the agency’s name change procedure. 

The process for renaming City recreation and park facilities is outlined in a 1981 San Francisco Rec and Park Commission resolution. 

According to Aparton, Rec and Park’s role is to ensure there’s extensive public outreach before a name change proposal reaches the Rec and Park Commission, and to guarantee “that the process is fair, equitable, and takes the practical requirements into consideration, things like existing plaques, historical references.”  

Under the Commission’s renaming policy an individual or organization making a renaming proposal must fully justify it to Rec and Park, submitting information about dates of community meetings and evidence they were held, such as agendas, meeting minutes, or videos. 

“It includes letters of support, neighborhood surveys, and petitions with a minimum of 100 signatures. Both quantity and quality matter. We want to see that the community has been both informed of a name change proposal and had a chance to weigh in on the matter,” said Aparton. 

Aparton said anyone from the “impacted community” can propose a new name. “We typically guide them through the outreach process, work with them to address any questions that come up and can amplify their efforts. Rec and Park approves the list of proposed names, and the Commission has final approval on the name change of the facility,” said Aparton.

Aparton said it’s up to the renaming advocate to conduct outreach to stakeholders, “whether they be residents, local businesses, or Native American communities with ties to the land.”

There can be competing renaming proposals, though Aparton couldn’t recall rival name change proposals by separate groups that were successful. She said renaming the Presidio Wall Playground, originally Julius Kahn, in 2019, involved three choices, “Presidio Wall,” “West Pacific,” and the “Rhonda Goldman Playground.” 

Aparton said parties advocating a name change must submit a letter to the Commission which contains a detailed summary of the service or support the honoree contributed to the City or community. The precis usually includes factual data and a petition with enough signatures to indicate substantial support for the proposal. It must also contain endorsements from a cross-section of stakeholders, including recognized community leaders.