Graham’s city council will consider a request next month to rename the Sesquicentennial Park on the northwest corner of Court Square.
Barrett Brown, the president of the Alamance NAACP and a Graham resident, asked the council to rename the park for Wyatt Outlaw.
Outlaw, an early Graham constable and city commissioner (apparently the predecessor of a city councilman) who was a black leader within the Republican Party after the Civil War, was lynched on February 26, 1870.
Brown described Outlaw: “Wyatt Outlaw was appointed justice of the peace in Graham by Governor Holden. In response to his appointment a mob of racist insurrectionists removed him from his home by force. They lynched him in the public square. That event started what is known as the Kirk-Holden War.
“There is considerable meaningful policy work that needs to evolve so that this country and this community can live up to [their] full potential,” Brown said in his letter to the council. “We need to be intentional about truth and reconciliation. We ask that this council take the initiative to commemorate the legacy of Wyatt Outlaw and the many contributions that he made to the City of Graham.”
City clerk Darcy Sperry read Brown’s letter as the last item under “issues not on the agenda” at the end of Tuesday night’s meeting. Mayor Jerry Peterman agreed to put the issue on the agenda for the council’s next monthly meeting, on February 9.
Sesquicentennial Park was a tribute, dedicated in 2000, to the county’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1999, when the county celebrated its first 150 years of history. Alamance County was formed from the western portions of Orange County on April 24, 1849.
Graham, as the county seat, was named for the governor at the time, William Graham, who was from Hillsborough; it was founded two years later, in 1851, and the city celebrated its own sesquicentennial in 2001.
A groundbreaking for the park was held the week after the county sesquicentennial festivities, in late April 1999.
Funding for the park came from a number of fundraisers during the sesquicentennial year. Commemorative bricks were sold (see photo below); cookbooks were sold; and a book on the county’s history was also sold. Other fundraising events and corporate donations contributed to the money raised to build the park.
Initial records reviewed this week by The Alamance News indicated that the city and county bought the property, which had been the site of a popular restaurant, the Soda Shop, during the first half of the century. The county apparently gave the property to the city.
According to various minutes and news reports from the time, the total cost of the park was $80,000 in one report, listed as $102,000 in another.
The park was described as a “lasting gift” to the “citizens of the community” in a proclamation adopted by the commissioners prior to the dedication of the park on November 19, 2000.” The commissioners’ proclamation said that the “garden-park,” as it was then described, would “now and forever more be known as ‘Sesquicentennial Park.’”
Then-county commissioner Sam Powell of Burlington and local writer Pat Bailey served as the co-chairmen of the sesquicentennial committee, which oversaw the yearlong festivities celebrating the county’s history.
Status of the park’s stability
During the council’s brief discussion on Brown’s request to have the renaming considered, it was mentioned that that park has some structural problems, which were not detailed at the time. Councilman Ricky Hall suggested it might be due to settling from where the basement existed for the previous Soda Shop location.
City manager Frankie Maness provided some elaboration on Wednesday. “Our crews have kept the park under observation for a couple years now when we began to notice some compromise in the planter walls.”
Yellow tape now cordons off the southeast corner of the park. Maness could not confirm the origins of the problem, but confirmed some problem exists, “I’m not sure about the former basement contributing to the current compromises, but it’s certainly plausible,” he told the paper.
He noted, “There have also been a fair number of loose bricks and pavers that have required attention. We are continuing to monitor the conditions there in the interest of public safety.”
The prognosis, however, is not good. “In all likelihood, the park will require some demolition and reconstruction and/or some sort of redevelopment,” Maness concluded.
Who was Wyatt Outlaw?
While much is known about Outlaw, there are also gaps. Historically, his lynching is one of the most significant events in the county’s history, according to some local historians. “His murder…is second only to the Battle of Alamance as the most widely recognized event in the county’s history,” wrote Drs. Bill Vincent, executive director of the Alamance County Historical Museum, and Carole Troxler, then a history professor at Elon University, who wrote a history of the county in 1999 for the county’s sesquicentennial.
“The facts surrounding his death are well documented,” the authors wrote in their history book, Shuttle & Plow: A History of Alamance County, North Carolina. “Tragically, his person is not. The man’s life has remained the quintessential enigma of Alamance County history.”
Troxler and Vincent concluded that Outlaw, “the county’s foremost black Republican,” was hung “not 30 yards from the courthouse in Graham.”
See the newspaper’s editorial opinion on the issue: