On October 3, a community meeting was held to discuss the implementation of a new African-American Veteran’s Memorial since the previous one located at the edge of the Martin Luther King Jr. Park property was sold due to lack of maintenance and interest.
The meeting was held by Ucedrah Osby, Executive Director of Community Interventions and Kern County Parks and Recreation District 5 Commissioner. In August, Osby requested to start a committee dedicated to creating an African-American Veterans Memorial. This committee would come together to discuss designs and locations to honor the African-American Veterans.
Osby explained that in 2020, she and other community members began fighting to save the original memorial when they noticed that it was put on the surplus list. She also explained that the reason the building was added to the surplus list was due to the county did not believe it had a need to hold onto the property.
The African-American Veteran’s Hall was a small county-owned island of 2.6 acres adjacent to a sizable city-owned park. The property was bought by the City of Bakersfield for $250,000 and Osby asked that the proceeds from the transaction be kept in District 5 so they could keep their eyes on how that money was being spent.
“After a few months went by, I realized that we hadn’t done a good job with engaging the community and letting them know that this had happened and to ask what would you like to see happen with the proceeds?” Osby stated during the meeting. “How can we pay respect to those of you who fought for us? For those that are still here and those that have passed on.”
Around a dozen community members joined Osby at Tuesday’s community meeting, eager to provide their input and find a way to create a new memorial for African-American veterans
One resident expressed her sadness about the building being sold, stating that for many years that was the only place African-American Veterans had to go. The building served as headquarters for the African-American post 3741 for veterans, who may not have felt welcome at posts in other parts of town. The post was shut down in 2017, three years before the building was added to the surplus list.
“I was part of the Women’s Auxiliary and we begged people to help when they threatened to close it,” stated another resident, Dorothy Evans. “We were asking Veterans to join to keep it going, but nobody would come forward and so it just ended up being like what it is now.”
Osby went on to reveal that it was hard to have conversations during the County Parks and Recreation meetings because the County hasn’t been doing well with community engagement, which was apparent as many attendees stated that they hadn’t known about the building going unmaintained and then being sold.
“I’m hearing you say you didn’t know, how were you supposed to know, nobody contacted you. There was no PSA. We talk about that on a regular basis at our meetings, the lack of community engagement,” said Osby. “And so that’s why it was important for me to ask if we could have this subcommittee get started on creating a plan to honor all of the members that were in the military and their families. We want to pay homage, we appreciate you all.”
The next agenda point for the meeting was a discussion on the type of memorial the community wanted built to honor the African-American veterans and attendees discussed creating a memorial similar to the World War II Veterans Memorial which was designed at Jastro Park.
However, one question that was prominent throughout the meeting was the location of a new African-American Veterans Memorial. Many attendees wanted this memorial to still be located at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, as it held a lot of historical significance to them.
It was then that the Bakersfield Parks and Recreation Director, Rick Anthony, spoke up and provided an update on the Martin Luther King Jr. Park renovation project and his personal hopes for a new African-American Veterans memorial.
“It’s an honor to be in the room with you that have certainly paved the way. I don’t discount the fact that I’m here because of a lot of your efforts,” Anthony started. “We have been working on a plan to reimagine MLK for quite some time and I wanted to buy that property — I spearheaded buying that corner property.”
Anthony went on to say that he told the City that if they were going to do the park and do it right, then they needed to also buy the property that was once the African American Veterans Hall.
Attendees were pleased to hear about Anthony’s plans to reimagine the Martin Luther King Jr. Park, and even more pleased to hear that their memorial would be able to be reinstated at the building that held it for so many years.
Anthony shared a plan for what the reimagined park would look like and revealed that there was, in fact, a space for a new memorial plaza. It will be located right in front of where the community center will be located.
“Not only do we want to capture the stories of the folks that have had a hand in this, but we also want to share the history of how that park came to be,” said Anthony. “We don’t honor and showcase our history enough, we just let it go to the wayside.”
More community meetings will be held to continue discussions on what the design of the memorial should look like and potential fundraisers that could be instated to raise more money for the memorial.
Community members interested in attending future meetings or joining the committee can contact Ucedrah Osby at firstname.lastname@example.org.