Wes Dick on Transforming Holland Park

The history professor describes the significance of an upcoming city renovation project

February 2, 2015

I Am the New Albion stickerBack in October, the City of Albion’s Parks Division was the recipient of a $35,000 grant from the FireKeepers Local Revenue Sharing Board. The funding will enhance the accessibility and usage of Holland Park on the west side of town, primarily through the upgrading of facilities and equipment.

Then last month, the park project received an additional $20,000 grant from the Albion Community Foundation, to be put toward playground equipment.

While the physical improvements will be made this spring and summer, in some ways the Holland Park transformation has already begun. The park was established in 1974 and named for Robert Holland, Sr., whose efforts successfully led to the closure in 1953 of the segregated West Ward Elementary School, which stood on the ground the park occupies today. His daughter Ruth Holland Scott, a 1956 Albion College alumna who attended West Ward, returned to her hometown last week to deliver the address at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation and Community Celebration. The event stirred up memories as well as anticipation for what is to come at the park.

Wesley Dick, professor of history, Albion CollegeDr. Wesley Dick (right), longtime Albion College professor of U.S. history, Albion resident, and one of several key forces behind the grants, offers a commentary below that frames the Holland Park transformation effort within a larger historical context.

“A small town with a rich history, Albion's story is America's story. The Holland Park chapters include the Pottawatomie and their removal, the arrival of white settlers, and industrialization and the building of iron foundries which needed workers. Immigrants came from Europe and, as part of the Great Migration, African Americans came from the South. Once African Americans arrived, they were segregated by neighborhood and elementary school. West Ward School became the all-Black elementary school in 1918. Following World War II, Albion's African American community led a civil rights campaign that culminated in the closing of the "separate but unequal" West Ward School. A park replaced the school. In 1974, the park was named in honor of Robert Holland, Sr., one of Albion's civil rights leaders.

“The land on which Holland Park stands is ‘sacred ground,’ representing the civil rights struggle to end segregation and to achieve justice. The center plaque in the park says of Robert Holland: ‘He dealt with the physical West Ward in this city in order that others were free to deal with psychological West Wards in their minds.’ Current news reminds us that Martin Luther King's ‘Dream’ has not been fully realized, giving the Holland Park quotation renewed relevance.

“The efforts led by Albion City Council Member Lenn Reid to transform Holland Park, the FireKeepers and Community Foundation grants for playground restoration, and the timely Albion visit of Ruth Holland Scott, daughter of Robert Holland, Sr., contribute to Albion's revitalization and provide an opportunity for all of its citizens to better understand their history, which illuminates both American Dreams and the American Nightmares.

“Why is this history important? Knowing community history can instill pride and respect for the accomplishments of those who came before us. History needs to be truthful and the truth sometimes includes racism, segregation, and cruelty. History also includes people who acted with courage, worked hard, and whose dedication made a better world. While the dark side of history is depressing, the noble side of history is inspirational. The Holland Park story includes ‘bad news,’ but we are elevated through the examples of those who fought for justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. was fond of the quote: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ The Holland Park story reflects this sentiment. The Holland Park Transformation Initiative aspires to discover more of this history and to make it visible and interactive for young and old alike, motivating all of us to strive for justice.”