Cobb at impasse over how to name park with Confederate earthworks

March 27, 2018
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File Photo: Civil War historian and lecturer Michael K. Shaffer speaks at the rededication of the Shoupade Park in Smyrna. Cobb is considering what to name a new park in Mableton that contains Civil War earthworks. DAVID IBATA FOR THE AJC

What’s in a name? 

That was the question posed to Cobb County residents and officials this week as the board of commissioners debated what to call a new 103-acre park in Mableton that contains unique Civil War earthworks. 

Residents attending Tuesday’s meeting spoke passionately in favor of calling the greenspace Mableton Discovery Park, a name they said was inclusive and forward-looking, suitable for a public amenity to be enjoyed by a vibrant, diverse community. But some historic preservationists argued the county should honor the site’s history as a battlefield, saying the potential for tourism was greater if the name referenced its historical value. 

The site along the Chattahoochee River contains the remnants of Johnston’s River Line, a stretch of trenches and earthworks named for the Confederate general who oversaw its construction in 1864 using local slave labor. “Johnston’s Line” is included on the National Registry of Historic Places, but the name was never made official by the county. 

READ MORE: One Cobb company made more than 140 of the South’s Confederate statues

In the end, the board approved a master plan for the park but was unable to agree on a name, postponing the decision until a later date. The master plan calls for clearing trails along the river and through the forest, with signage highlighting the archaeological features. Development of the park would be funded with $1 million from a special 1 percent sales tax. 

About two dozen supporters of the Mableton Improvement Coalition turned out with signs urging commissioners to approve the name Mableton Discovery Park. Three people spoke out against that name. 

The proposed master plan for Mableton Discovery Park (Courtesy of Cobb County)

“I certainly respect the historical value and the historical features that are in this park,” said Mableton resident Ray Thomas. “However, naming the park after a Confederate Civil War general is not appropriate, and we do not support it.” 

Mableton resident Robin Meyer said she initially saw nothing wrong with naming the land something that paid homage to its status as a historic battleground. 

“Since then, I’ve listened to and learned from my neighbors and friends, and I’ve dug deep into the myth and the reality that the Civil War projects on us today,” she said. Naming the park for a battlefield “brings too much hurt, too much conflict, and too much division to the forefront.” 

“We don’t need to name this park for a battlefield for historians and Civil War enthusiasts to find it,” she continued. “Please name this park something that will make it a part of our community.” 

Ken Griffiths of the Georgia Civil War Commission said his organization supported what he called the “current historical name,” Johnston River Line Park. 

Naming the property Mableton Discovery Park “ignores the historical significance” of the site, he told Cobb commissioners. 

“We can’t change history but we can try to explain it,” Griffiths said. 

Residents turned out to speak on the name of a new park in Mableton. (Meris Lutz/AJC)

Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who represents the district, told the audience that she was prepared to support Mableton Discovery Park as a name but failed to garner support from Commissioners Bob Ott, JoAnn Birrell and Bob Weatherford, who all cited concerns about undermining the history of the area. 

Chairman Mike Boyce recused himself because he has donated money to the River Line Historic Area. 

Cupid expressed regret that the debate over the name was opening old wounds, noting a clear divide in opinion between the mostly black residents of Mableton who spoke at the meeting and the preservationists, who were all white. She noted the importance of recognizing Cobb’s history but also its future as it becomes more diverse. 

“How do we create inclusion for everyone?” Cupid asked. “I just don’t see having the name battlefield does that.” 

Cupid expressed frustration with her fellow commissioners, saying that in the past, it has been the custom of the board to allow the district commissioner and his or her constituents to make decisions about parks and amenities in their own area. 

“Somehow, the interests of this community are being trumped by other interests,” Cupid said.

Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston (Library of Congress).
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