Binghamton Park Renamed Due to Columbus’ Legacy of Slavery, Child Sex Trafficking | Juneteenth

Local Park Takes on Name of Black Freedom Fighter for Annual End of Slavery Celebration

Roderick Douglass
4 min readJun 20, 2019

CW: This article contains references to child sexual assault and genocide.

BINGHAMTON — In the late 1980s, a coalition of Black activists, led by Sadiki Kambon, successfully renamed Boston’s Washington Park as “Malcolm X Park.” A variety of reasons prompted the change, not the least of which was George Washington’s well-documented history of slave ownership.

At the time of his death, Washington’s estate boasted over 300 enslaved persons. The only president to own more human beings was Thomas Jefferson.

Having a park named after a notorious slave owner, in an area considered “the heart of Black culture in Boston,” was bound to turn heads. When the change took effect, younger generations were quick to embrace the new moniker. But, Boston’s Malcolm X Park is an exception in a country with thousands of lingering monuments to slavery scattered throughout Black communities.

Boston’s Malcolm X Park

Case in point: In Binghamton, NY, there is a park named after someone arguably responsible for more cruelty to Black and Indigenous people than George Washington — Christopher Columbus. Although Columbus Park in Binghamton is one of hundreds of American destinations named after the Italian colonizer, Binghamton’s park is unique in that it hosts the city’s Annual Juneteenth Celebration—a festival commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

And while some may debate the appropriateness of hosting an end-of-slavery celebration in a park named after a slave owner, what is not up for debate are the atrocities committed by the park’s namesake.

Members of Columbus’ fleet establishing strongholds in the Caribbean

It is well-documented that the majority of Christopher Columbus’ wealth came from slavery. In fact, Christopher Columbus was the first slave trader in the Americas. He initially sold Natives, but, as they were killed off, his company switched to trading Africans.

And unlike George Washington, Columbus also sold child sex slaves to the men comprising his crew. He once candidly wrote in his journals, “girls; those from nine to ten; are now in demand.”

So why would a children’s park in a largely Black neighborhood be named after a child sex trafficker and slave owner?

Some believe that Columbus’ achievement of accidentally navigating to the Bahamas — and insisting he was in Asia until his death — is enough to forgive his crimes against humanity. Others believe it is unfair to hold historical figures accountable by today’s standards, despite the fact sex with children was deemed sinful throughout most of Europe well before the age of Columbus.

“Why would a children’s park in a largely Black neighborhood be named after a child sex trafficker and slave owner?”

But many Americans have come to the realization that Columbus was a brutal and oppressive entity, and have already begun the process of renaming testaments to his honor.

In 1989, residents of South Dakota famously renamed Columbus Day to “Native American Day.” A year later, Gov. George Mickelson had South Dakota’s legislature formalize the change. In 1992, Berkley, Michigan followed suit and changed Columbus Day to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” Throughout the country, states and municipalities have continued to remove Columbus’ name from holidays and landmarks. Binghamton is only the latest in a slew of cities acknowledging the atrocities of Columbus.

American Freedom Fighter, Assata Shakur

For this year’s Juneteenth Celebration, Binghamton’s Columbus Park was dubbed “Assata Shakur Park,” after a discussion and vote by a handful of local community organizers and representatives. Presently, the change is informal, and mainly consists of an event flyer, a few references in local press, a radio ad, and a Facebook Check-In location. Whether or not the change sticks or gets rebranded is entirely up to residents. Just like in Boston and South Dakota, landmark name changes start with neighborhood discourse eventually leading to the adoption of colloquial language to better reflect the community.

It is unlikely Binghamton City Council or city administrators will pass the legislation required to formally rename Columbus Park any time soon, but as constituents learn and reflect on the legacy of Columbus and other American icons, the groundwork is being set for an official change.

In the mean time, residents in Binghamton are content in celebrating the liberation and achievements of Black Americans at their annual celebration. The spirit of Juneteenth is ultimately about empowering marginalized communities to speak their own truths and control their own destiny. And no amount of park signs or monuments will detract from that sentiment.