News & Politics

Washingtoniana: Meridian or Malcolm?

In this week’s edition of Washingtoniana—our feature where we collect your questions about Washington and do some sleuthing to find the answers—we find out the history of Malcolm X Park.

How, why, and when did Meridian Hill Park become Malcom X Park? —Liz

While some might know it as Malcom X Park, the official name for the 12 acres of land between 15th and 16th streets and W and Euclid streets, Northwest, is Meridian Hill Park. It is so named because it’s located on the exact longitude of the original District of Columbia milestone marker. It became a park in 1936—22 years after construction began—according to the National Park Service.

So where did the Malcolm X nickname come from? A leader of the Black United Front began referring to the park in honor of the civil-rights leader on the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., says Simone Moffett, cultural-resource specialist for Rock Creek Park, the organization that deals with administrative issues for Meridian Hill. DC residents later voted for the name to be officially changed to Malcolm X. A bill to change the name was introduced to Congress in January 1970, says Moffett, but didn’t pass. Moffett says that because a presidential memorial is located in the park—in honor of 15th President James Buchanan—the name cannot be changed to represent another person.So why is it still referred to as Malcolm X? Patty Henry of the National Historic Landmarks Program couldn’t find any information about the park’s name change when asked about the history. It seems as if locals simply started calling the park that on their own in the late ’60s and ’70s—and the name has stuck ever since.

Meridian Hill Park became a National Historic Landmark in 1994 because it displayed “an outstanding accomplishment of early 20th-century neoclassicist park design,” according the park service’s Web site. One must-see of the park is the 13-basin cascade fountain located in the lower-level formal garden.

Fun facts about Meridian Hill:

• The park is home to the only equestrian statue of a woman—Joan of Arc—in DC.

• During the warmer months, people gather in the park and participate in drum circles from 3 to 9 on Sundays and dance to the African beats.

• Union troops camped here during the Civil War.

• In the 19th century, Columbia College (which later became George Washington University) was located at Meridian Hill.

• The park was home to an early African-American seminary.

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