The name Page Ellington was just one item on a City Council committee’s list for renaming, but his rich and complex history propelled this nearly forgotten name to the celebrated namesake of the Columbia area’s newest park in the BullStreet District.
Columbia’s Newest Park
The BullStreet District has steadily grown from the home of South Carolina's 200-year-old state mental institution, into an economic and residential district featuring the Columbia Fireflies and various apartment complexes. One of its newest additions, Page Ellington Park, came from the decision to build a green space for the area.
This green space features a dog park, an innovative water system and a walking path.
“The initial thought was, or the initial recommendation was, that we wanted to take this opportunity with a newly constructed park in the BullStreet district to name this park after an African American,” Assistant City Manager of Operations Henry Simons said.
Professor Bobby Donaldson from the University of South Carolina was called in for this project due to his extensive engagement with Columbia’s history, as both a professor and as a major contributor to Columbia 63, a city project focused on reviving the civil rights history of Columbia.
Robin Waites, the executive for Historic Columbia, also joined him on this subset committee of the Administrative Policy Committee, which handles city facilities and city parks, in search of the naming process.
Together with others, they created a list of names for the committee to review and thoroughly vet, before deciding on a name.
History of Page Ellington
When deciding on a name from the list of influential historic figures one person stood out, but not for the reason you may think.
Ellington was a compelling name because of how little was known about him, Donaldson said. History had forgotten him.
During Reconstruction, Ellington was an active citizen and leader who held several city offices and was integral to the development and expansion of the Bull Street area. He was also a self-taught, skilled craftsman, architect and brick mason.
A former slave, Ellington became a facet of the community due to his self-taught skills. Yet, even though he made this powerful name for himself at the time, little was left of his name over time.
Councilman McDowell said after getting the pitch, it was unanimous Ellington would be the choice, as someone who accomplished so much against all odds.
“It was a unique opportunity to think about naming the park for someone who played a critical role in literally building that space,” Donaldson said. “So now, people who go to that area will now have a history lesson in front of them about a very prominent citizen, who has been lifted from the footnotes and given far greater attention.”
According to Simons, this naming helps to confirms the vision of Mayor Benjamin. Benjamin is passionate about African American history, heritage and culture, as well as about addresses social justice issues that continue to plague Columbia. To him, it made sense to ensure the city recognized African Americans in a profound way.
“The African American emphasis within our city continues to surround itself with a vision of diversity, inclusiveness and a real sense of who we are as a city,” McDowell said.