Coalition to Save Lincoln Park Announces Formation
“Someone’s got plans for our community - plans that don’t include us.” said Ms. Vannice Hughley, a 74 year old African-American woman.
Ms. Hughley has lived in Chattanooga all her life. She is the President of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, a tiny little community tucked away in downtown Chattanooga. But Lincoln Park isn’t just any ordinary neighborhood - it’s home to the historic Lincoln Park, the community’s treasured namesake which was once the only recreation center for African-Americans.
Ms. Hughley, President of Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, standing at the old park site.
Ms. Hughley comes from a long line of past Presidents of her community, all Black women, who have stood up, despite all pressure and resistance, to save their community from powerful institutions and forces that would encroach on it and do it harm. Now, at the age of 74 and with the help of her daughter, Tiffany Rankins, Ms. Hughley must once again defend and preserve her community.
The threat this time is a proposed extension of Central Avenue to connect to Riverside Drive - an extension that runs straight through their historic park. Planned by the City of Chattanooga’s City Engineering department, the extension was proposed, planned, and passed without the consent or meaningful inclusion of the community itself.
“Its a funny thing to learn what’s happening to your community by having to read the newspaper. But then again, we’re always the first affected and last one’s notified.”
Victories in the Past
This isn’t the first time that Lincoln Park has been threatened - it’s also not the first time they’ve organized, fought back, and won.
“At the time, the nearby hospital was buying up properties and houses around the park. We even lost the park itself after the City swapped it with the hospital for property elsewhere. And the hospital kept developing and encroaching on the community, but that’s when “Mother” organized her residents and fought back.”
In the 1980s, Ms. Hughley joined a coalition of neighborhood residents to form the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Improvement League to save the community from continued development by the nearby hospital. The Improvement League was led by a woman named Georgia Mae Farris and Bessie Smith, known to the community as “Mother”.
“Mother reached out to me,” Ms. Hughley said. “She insisted that I get involved in the community, but I didn’t want to be bothered. ‘Just don’t have the time for it,’ I said to her. But she wore me down. ‘I’m still working,’ I told her. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. So I decided to get involved.”
“They used to march up there to the Board meetings at the hospital, and just stand there in the back, watching.” Ms. Hughley said. “They’d stand there to let them know the community was together.”
Through community organizing, Lincoln Park was able to halt the encroachment of the hospital and win a moratorium against future development on the old park site. But the Improvement League’s success didn’t end there. Together, residents worked to help one of their own, an elderly low-income widow, purchase her home and escape the threat of eviction. The hard fought improvements and successes of the newly-named Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association were marked by the dedication of an archway in front of the community.
“And then one day, Mother passed.” said Ms. Hughley. “And someone came up to me and said, ‘Well, that makes you President,’ and I said ‘But I’m only the Secretary.’ And do you know what Mother had done? She had gone and made me her Vice-President. Her successor.”
The Encroachment Continues
Now, after living in Lincoln Park for over forty years, Ms. Hughley will have to fight once again to save her community from outside forces that wish to encroach on it.
The City of Chattanooga Public Works and City Engineering Department are proposing an extension of Central Avenue to connect with Riverside Drive - an extension that could include up to five lanes of truck-heavy traffic all going straight over what remains of the community’s cherished Lincoln Park. To add insult to injury, City Engineering notified the residents only after making their decision.
Ms. Hughley and her daughter Tiffany, the Secretary of Lincoln Park, first found out that there were talks of an extension by reading an article in the Times Free Press in late 2011.
Alarmed, Ms. Hughley called then Mayor Littlefield, who attended the February 2012 meeting of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association and assured residents that the project was not a “done deal”. Alternate routes that did not cut through the park were still being considered, and getting historic preservation status for the park could still be a goal.
“And then the next time we heard about anything was the day of the City Council vote to accept funds for the project.” said Ms. Hughley.
On June 12th, 2012, the Chattanooga City Council voted to accept the project and approve funds for the Central Avenue extension, despite objections from Ms. Hughley and Tiffany that the community was not informed of the project and had no involvement in the decision-making process.
The next time that Lincoln Park heard from anybody about the proposed extension was the February 2013 Neighborhood Association meeting. There, members of both the Fortwood and Lincoln Park Neighborhood Associations heard from City Engineering and Public Works about their plans for their community. Maps were unveiled, explanations given, but the bottom-line was this:
“The goal isn’t for residents to say if they want the Central Avenue extension but to help the city determine the community impact it will have. It’s not necessarily a question of ‘do you want this or not.” - City Engineer Bill Payne, quoted in the Times Free Press article on 4/19/13
“I remember some of my residents being so worried. Tears in their eyes with worry. Old folks asking me if they should sell their homes and leave. And I told them “No, don’t sell. Don’t sell.” Ms. Hughley said.
Ms. Hughley had more words though.
“When it’s something wrong with our communities, when its the gangs, guns, and the drugs, they say ‘You can take your community back’, but when they want to build a road through your community, when they want to do something to your community, they say ‘You can’t do anything about it.’ So, who’s community is it?” - Ms. Hughley, President, Lincoln Park
The Coalition to Save Lincoln Park
The Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association is now leading the “Coalition to Save Lincoln Park”, a group of neighborhood associations and individuals who are working to oppose the Central Avenue extension and preserve this important piece of cultural legacy.
The Coalition is set to mobilize together at the Transportation Planning Organization Board Meeting on Tuesday, May 28th, at 1:30pm at the Development Resource Center. There, the TPO Board, which is charged with allocating Federal highway dollars to transportation projects, will vote to allocate $5.1 million dollars in Federal funds to the Central Avenue extension.
The Coalition will be asking that the TPO Board deny Federal funds to the project because they were fundamentally excluded from the decision-making process.
Later on that day, the Coalition will gather at the Chattanooga City Council at 6:00pm to ask the Council to stop the project altogether.
What you can do to help:
- Call or e-mail Mayor Berke at 423-643-7800 and email@example.com or your City Councilperson and ask the Administration to “Save Lincoln Park and Stop the Central Avenue Extension!”
- Visit the Coalition’s Facebook page and help spread the word about Lincoln Park!
- Sign the online petition at Change.org!