John Chavis Memorial Park is the first Raleigh city park to be named to the National Register of Historic Places, and that’s appropriate. For the park represents much more than the legacy of the free black Presbyterian minister for whom it is named, a man who taught children of both races in North Carolina 200 years ago.
This park, in Southeast Raleigh, still is thriving after investment by the city in the park’s historic Allan Herschell Carousel and other needs, with more improvement projects on the way.
The historic park is a monument with multiple meanings to all citizens. It was created at a time when African-American citizens were denied access to most recreational venues. Because of segregation, citizens from all over Eastern North Carolina came to Chavis, whereas now its visitors are mostly from Raleigh. A photograph of Chavis shortly after its opening in the 1930s shows many cars and many people coming in to enjoy benefits.
And, it was created in the midst of the Great Depression, so the park also is a good example of the Works Progress Administration, President Franklin Roosevelt’s program to help put people back to work. The WPA built the park, which then had a big swimming pool and bathhouse, a baseball diamond, a football field, picnic space and a carousel with carved wooden horses.
A place on the National Register is a fitting honor for a park that tells a story of hope and perseverance.