Posted on December 19, 2018

Alexandria Council Names Redeveloped Space ‘Waterfront Park,’ Avoiding City Founder Who Owned Slaves

Patricia Sullivan, Washington Post, December 15, 2018

The Alexandria City Council decided unanimously Saturday to name a refurbished park at the foot of King Street “Waterfront Park,” even though the council admitted it’s a lackluster and unimaginative moniker. Its advantage: It doesn’t offend anyone.

The park, previously called Fitzgerald Square, sparked a local dispute this year after some residents objected that founding father Col. John Fitzgerald was one of the town’s largest slave owners.

“His successful businesses were accomplished on the back of enslaved human beings,” said council member Timothy B. Lovain (D).


The abandonment of Fitzgerald’s name enraged Irish organizations in Alexandria, whose leaders raised claims of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic bias. Fitzgerald, an Irish immigrant, was an aide-de-camp to Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War, served as mayor in the city’s earliest years and founded a Catholic church, St. Mary’s Basilica, in the town.


A few officials said quietly last spring that there was concern among some residents about Fitzgerald’s slave-owning past. In a March 17 announcement about the project’s groundbreaking, city officials dropped the Fitzgerald Square reference, substituting a temporary name, “King Street Park at the Waterfront.”

In explanation, city communications officials said the park had to go through an official naming process. They dismissed the idea that the change had anything to do with citizens’ complaints about Fitzgerald’s past.

Although about 70 people testified at the naming commission’s hearing in November, the only one to speak up Saturday was Andrew MacDonald, former vice mayor and a descendant of Scottish immigrants.

“This is a simple, lackluster way to escape controversy,” he said Saturday at the hearing, offering the suggestion of Maritime Heritage or Steamboat Park, or finding other names that reflect Alexandria’s seagoing past.