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Former co-chairman of Sesquicentennial-year celebration defends keeping Graham park’s name


The former county commissioner who helped head the county’s 150th anniversary celebration, its Sesquicentennial, in 1999, is weighing in on the idea of renaming the park that was to be the “lasting gift” to the community after the yearlong celebration of the county’s 1849 founding.

Sam Powell, who was co-chairman of the citizen committee that oversaw the county’s 150th anniversary celebration, together with chairman Pat Bailey who died at age 86 in 2013, focuses most of his three-page commentary to Graham’s mayor and city council on the history of the efforts to build the park as a long-lasting tribute to the county’s historical celebration.

In an e-mailed letter to Graham’s mayor Jerry Peterman and council members this week, Powell says, “It would be highly inappropriate for the Graham city council to arbitrarily change the name of Sesquicentennial Park for a use other than community celebration and recognition of advancements made over the past 150 years.”

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See other editorial page coverage/opinion on this issue:

OP-ED: Longer excerpts from Sam Powell’s letter to Graham mayor Jerry Peterman and Graham city council members (Jan. 28, 2021 edition): https://alamancenews.com/op-ed-powell-asks-graham-city-council-to-keep-parks-name-as-is/

EDITORIAL: Name change for Sesquicentennial Park misguided, inappropriate – and we’re not even sure it would be legal (Jan. 14, 2021 edition): https://alamancenews.com/name-change-for-sesquicentennial-park-misguided-inappropriate-and-were-not-even-sure-it-would-be-legal/

While Powell does not disparage the concept of a tribute to Wyatt Outlaw, he says such a tribute shouldn’t come at the expense of a park built with the efforts and financial contributions from across the county.

“Renaming Sesquicentennial Park for Wyatt Outlaw has potential to divide the community by bringing up a negative time in our past,” he says.

Outlaw was a black constable and town commissioner (apparently the forerunner of a city councilman), who was an active Republican in the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, who was forcibly taken from his home on North Main Street and lynched in downtown Graham on February 26, 1870.

The renaming issue arose on January 12, when local NAACP president and Graham resident Barrett Brown asked Graham to schedule a vote on renaming the park for Outlaw. Mayor Peterman agreed to put the issue on the council’s agenda for its February 9 meeting.

“I agree that it is important to remember our past so we can learn from what happened, but in the process, we do not want to destroy the positive attributes that we have gained like Sesquicentennial Park. If the council feels that a memorial to Mr. Outlaw should be provided in Courthouse Square, then I see no problem with putting up a plaque or statue in recognition of his life. And this could be done in the Park. But we should not lose the Park in the process,” Powell emphasizes.

“There is a lot of division in our country,” Powell goes on to say, “and anything we can do to bring people together is important. The enhancement of community pride offered by Sesquicentennial Park goes a long way towards responding to the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

See previous coverage of this issue:

NAACP president wants Sesquicentennial Park name changed to honor Reconstruction era figure Wyatt Outlaw (Jan. 14, 2021 edition): https://alamancenews.com/naacp-president-wants-sesquicentennial-park-name-changed-to-honor-reconstruction-era-figure-wyatt-outlaw/

Descendant of Wyatt Outlaw likes potential tribute to great-great grandfather (Jan. 21, 2021 edition): https://alamancenews.com/descendant-of-wyatt-outlaw-likes-potential-tribute-to-great-great-grandfather/

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