Stop Honoring Racists -- Say Goodbye to John Mullaly Park in the Bronx

04/04/2016 07:19 am ET Updated Apr 05, 2017

In December 2015 I published a Huffington Post piece, "Instead of Honoring Slaveholders, Slave Traders, and Racists," about campaigns to change the names of programs and public facilities named after slaveholders and racists. Since writing that post, I discovered a new one that has special meaning to me; it is the name of a park located in the Highbridge section of the Bronx where I grew up.

As boys growing up in the1950s and 1960s, my friends and I used to play softball and football in John Mullaly Park. It was the largest green space in the neighborhood, stretching from McClellan Street south to E. 164th Street, between River and Jerome Avenues. We also used to cut through the park on our way to Yankee games or to the Macombs track.

According to the New York City Parks Department website, the park honors "John Mullaly (1835-1911), a newspaperman and civic official who was a tireless proponent of green space and the father of the Bronx parks system." Mullaly was born in Belfast, Ireland and came to the United States as a young man where he became a reporter for the New York Herald and editor of the Metropolitan Record, the official publication of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in New York City. Later in his career Mullaly held municipal jobs as Commissioner of Health and a member of the board of tax assessors and he helped found the New York Park Association.

I uncovered a dark side of Mullaly's past while studying about how New Yorkers reacted the American Civil War. Mullay was an anti-war "Copperhead" Democrat. At a Union Square rally on May 19, 1863, Mullaly declared "the war to be wicked, cruel and unnecessary, and carried on solely to benefit the negroes, and advised resistance to conscription if ever the attempt should be made to enforce the law." As editor of he Metropolitan Record, Mullaly's call for armed resistance to the military draft led to his arrest following the July 1863 New York City Draft Riots. Over one hundred people died and at least nineteen Black men were beaten to death or lynched by rioters in the worst urban unrest in the United States during the 19th century. Although a racist, Mullaly did not support the murder of Blacks during the rioting. In one Metropolitan Record editorial he advised members of the "superior" race not to turn their anger against an "inferior" one.

Editorials in the Metropolitan Record written by Mullaly leading up to the Draft Riots accused the Lincoln Administration of perverting the war from an attempt to restore the Union into an "emancipation crusade." He charged the "vile and infamous" Emancipation Proclamation would bring "massacre and rapine and outrage into the homes on Southern plantations, sprinkling their hearths with the blood of gentle women, helpless age, and innocent childhood." According to Mullaly's rampage, "Never was a blacker crime sought to be committed against nature, against humanity, against the holy precepts of Christianity."

In the indictment, Mullaly was also charged with counseling Governor Seymour to "forcibly to resist an enrollment ordered by competent authority in pursuance of said act of Congress." After a hearing, however, the case against Mullaly was discharged.

His biographer reports that after the Civil War Mullaly left the newspaper business and entered city government through connections with the corrupt Tweed Ring and Tammany Hall. This led to his involvement with the annexation of property in the Bronx and the eventual creation of public parks.

This is definitely a park that needs to be renamed. I recommend it be named after Elston Howard, the first African American baseball player on the New York Yankees and American League MVP in 1963.