The Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to boot Ben Franklin from a public park in central Tacoma, replacing him with Rosa Franklin, Washington state’s first African American state senator.
Franklin Park, which has occupied approximately 20 acres in central Tacoma since the 1930s, will technically not be changing its name, since both the founding father and the former state senator share a last name, according to The News Tribune.
The theoretical gesture is nevertheless being hailed as a sign of progress.
“I really believe that it means a lot to people — and to kids — to see people who look like them represented in the names of parks and schools and other facilities,” said Metro Parks board commissioner Aaron Pointer. “It gives people inspiration. To some, it might not mean a lot. But to others, it can mean a sense of belonging, and that the city recognizes that our people are a part of the city, and not just something that is disregarded.”
As The News Tribune reported:
Not only will [the renaming] provide a concrete example of the work Metro Parks has done to improve equity, inclusion and diversity, but it will serve as an example to Tacoma residents — young and old — of the important role Black Tacoma residents have played in the city’s history.
Metro Parks board chair Erik Hanberg jokingly described the name change as “pulling a King County,” a reference to when Washington state lawmakers “renamed” King County after Martin Luther King Jr. in 2005 without actually doing anything.
Hanberg maintained the name change meant no disrespect to Benjamin Franklin but rather was simply intended “to honor a woman of color who spent much of her life living in Tacoma and working to make the city a better place.”
“In this case, there was an opportunity to take a name from someone who had not been from Tacoma and had died long before the city was founded and replace it with an icon who is also a woman of color,” Hanberg said. “I don’t think [Ben Franklin] loses anything by having Tacoma change the name … to someone who is actually connected to our city and has done great things for our city.”
Metro Parks Board Commissioner Jessie Baines took a less charitable view toward the founding father, who once owned slaves but later became an abolitionist. According to The News Tribune, Baines argued “that dead white men are constantly put on a pedestal in this country, despite blemishes or missteps, while people of color have rarely received similar recognition.”
Rosa Franklin, 93, said when she was told she had been chosen as the park’s namesake, she asked, “Are you sure?”
“I used to live in that district. My two kids … went to Franklin Elementary, so you know that was a long time ago,” Franklin added. “I’m so appreciative.”
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