Lincoln Park to celebrate its people, heritage
Aug. 27, 1997

Lincoln Park's history will come alive tonight, as present and former residents gather to tell their stories and share their past.

The predominantly black neighborhood was established in 1891. Tonight's gathering celebrates not only the 106th anniversary of the neighborhood, but also the 20th anniversary of the local historic society.

"Instead of always reporting on people who passed away, we want people to tell their own histories," said Anita Neal-Powell, president of the Lincoln Park Historical Society. "Often times, we feel that we must reach above and beyond to find people who have contributed to our community and to the black race. Well, guess what? You can reach across the street."

Powell and her organization have invited a number of present and former residents to tonight's event, scheduled to run from 7 to 9 o'clock in the seventh-floor hearing room at the County Office Building, 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville.

Authors and church leaders, relatives of athletic heroes and educators will share their stories, including former world middleweight boxing champion Williams Joppy. The Rev. Rodney Davis will show the tools his father used to build Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in 1902, Edith Gordon will talk about teaching English at Lincoln Park High School when it housed only black students, and Louis Monk will share his experience as the second principal at the all-black school as well.

A slew of other guests were invited, although not everyone is expected to speak, Powell said.

"Some of them may say something, some of them may not. They'll be there to answer questions," she said.

The celebration coincides with the closing days of an exhibit at the Rockville Library. Hundreds of items, including photos, showing the history of Lincoln Park have been on display since the beginning of the month. Many of the people who gave items for the display are invited to the gathering.

"It's really to commemorate the exhibit and bring it to life," Powell said.

Although Lincoln Park is a small neighborhood, its hold on its residents is seemingly unbreakable.

"I get a deep sense of belonging," said Wilma Bell, a lifelong and third-generation resident of the neighborhood. "I live in a neighborhood where three generations of my family before me are buried. It's the whole of me. I can't imagine living in another neighborhood. It's a feeling of being complete and knowing who you are. Lincoln Park represents something very safe to me."

Bell is not the only resident who has lived in the neighborhood all her life. And like Bell, other residents have a number of relatives who also live in the community.

"It's a history that I'm proud of," said Anita Summerour, president of the Lincoln Park Civic Association, and who also has lived in the neighborhood all her life. "I like the close-knit atmosphere of the community. I know it needs some improvement, but I'm not going to leave."

Family ties are not the only thing that keep residents from moving out of the neighborhood. The neighbors, even if not related by blood, often act like family.

"Everybody chips in when you have a problem," Summerour said.

"It's a place where you do have community responsibility, civic responsibility," Bell said. "You have to look out for your neighbors, you have to respond when they call. People in other areas don't know their neighbors. But that can't happen in Lincoln Park. You have to know your neighbors."

Although well known for its contribution to the Negro baseball League, Lincoln park residents have achieved in more than just one area. As noted, Joppy grew up in the neighborhood, as did Maryland middleweight boxing champion Fabian Garcia.

The community shares a number of common struggles as well, which in part led to its cohesion. The protests following the erection of the North Rockville Pedestrian Bridge is just one example of how the community pulled together.

Powell can remember when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference rallied on the bridge to protest what was seen community-wide as an insult to the neighborhood.

More than two decades after the bridge was built, the city and state are going to renovate and improve the bridge.

"That story will be shared," Powell said. "It took us 20 years to get that issue resolved. You have to persevere."

In addition to the bridge, the community has battled to maintain its reputation as a family neighborhood, despite the image of drug use and poverty often associated with the public housing in the neighborhood.

"It used to be families. That's not really so anymore," said Bell, whose son now lives in Silver Spring, and whose daughter is staying with her over the summer. "I would like for another family to own my house ... I certainly hope the next family who owns this house has the same kind of love we did."

Founded in part by former or escaped slaves, the community was a beacon of hope for many blacks.

"I see Lincoln Park as a community of survivors, people who against all odds managed to hold onto the land," Bell said.

"Lincoln Park has been about ownership. A lot of people bought into that belief, a lot of African Americans bought into that belief, and I think that's why Lincoln Park has survived."

And with many of the earlier residents still living in the community, tonight's gathering will offer a chance to look back and reflect, Powell said.

"To me, it's an opportunity to go talk to the individuals, and see the lights in their eyes," Powell said.