Rumors abound that park will go to B-CU
BY DAYTONA TIMES STAFF
Cynthia Slater, president of the Volusia County-Daytona Beach branch of the NAACP, is trying to get to the bottom of rumors that Joe Harris Park may be the subject of a deal between the city of Daytona Beach and Bethune-Cookman University that will give the park to the university.
An open community meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 15, at 6 p.m. at Greater New Zion Primitive Baptist Church, 201 N. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
“People have been asking me whether the park is to be given away to B-CU as a way for the city to rid itself of what it sees as a nuisance,” she told the Daytona Times. “They are also asking me if the park will become a parking lot for the university’s new dorm project.”
According to Slater, the questions came about as a consequence of a comment B-CU President Edison Jackson made at a recent public event.
“We have invited representatives from B-CU, the city, and the Daytona Beach Police Department to answer questions.
“If a deal is being considered, we also want to gauge the community’s reaction. Is giving the park, which is public property, to a private institution the way to stop drug dealing and to eliminate crime in the area?
“Whether there is a deal or not, with a Daytona Beach Police Department substation just steps away from the park, why are open drug deals still happening in broad daylight?” Slater asks.
A Daytona Times review of recent Daytona Beach City Commission meetings did not indicate that any request from City Manager James Chisholm or city staff to convey Joe Harris Park to the university was placed before the commission.
For years, Joe Harris Park was a hot spot for local athletes.
The site, a collection of multiple full-length basketball courts, shelters, kids’ swings and green space, sits across the street from the site of B-CU’s new dormitory construction project.
Also known locally as “Harlem Park,” in decades past, it wasn’t unusual to see the basketball courts filled with high school and college-aged basketball players, including some on local high school teams, and the occasional Bethune-Cookman baller.
All were looking to test their skills by playing pick-up games against each other until it was too dark to see.
Different hot spot
Over the past few years, Joe Harris Park has become a hot spot of a different type: for crime and drugs.
Its proximity to the Biarritz Club, where two people were shot to death a few months ago – the park and the club share a common parking lot – have the park the source of concern, questions and controversy.
Who was Joe Harris?
The park was named after Joseph Harris, one of Daytona’s leading Black politicians, activists, and entrepreneurs. He and his wife Dufferin B. Harris were one of the most well-known and prominent “power couples” in the city.
When Jackie Robinson came to Daytona Beach prior to joining the Brooklyn Dodgers and desegregating Major League Baseball, he stayed at the Harris’s upscale two-story home which was less than a block away from where Joe Harris Park is now.
Harris was once beaten and seriously injured by the Ku Klux Klan for his attempts to get Black Daytonans registered to vote.
Dufferin Harris, a Spelman College graduate, was one of the first Black journalists to work for the Daytona Beach News-Journal, which did not routinely cover the Black community until after the Daytona Times came on the scene in 1978.
Years before the Daytona Times was founded, Dufferin Harris also wrote a News-Journal column called “Chatterbox,” a gossip column about the goings-on in Black Daytona.
Joe and Dufferin Harris, now deceased, are both buried in Sunset Memorial Cemetery.
Traditionally, Joe Harris Park has also been a magnet for Black motorcyclists when Bike Week rolls around in March. Due to its location near Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard, thousands of bikers and locals congregate there to relax, listen to music, and patronize food and merchandise vendors.
But this year, the bikers may be feeling a little fenced in.
After the Biarritz killings, a fence was erected around the city park. The club, at 309 Pearl St., is just yards from the park.
Residents have complained that the fence has hindered vehicle access to the park.
Slater has questioned why law enforcement is taking this measure – stopping access to vehicle traffic into the park. She has shared her thoughts on the lack of access with Daytona Beach Police Department Chief Mike Chitwood.
‘Open for bikers’
Barbara Turner-Himes, president of the Second Avenue Merchants Association (SAMA), told the Times this week that the fence was erected for safety issues. She noted that the bikers are being allowed to park in the area there free.
Local businesswoman Patricia Heard also confirmed to the Times on Wednesday that the park is open for bikers.
“The park is open for all bikers. They may enter from Green Street or Walnut Street,” she stated.
Heard expressed concern that the bar is located so close to the city park, stating that one could walk out of the bar and be on park property.
“I think it’s wrong for taxpayers to furnish parking space for a bar in the park,” she remarked.
“The fence should have been there long ago although I would have designed it differently,” Heard said, adding that the fence could have been “more attractive.’’
‘Slow right now’
About 500,000 motorcyclists are expected to be in town for the March 4-13 event, with a number of Black bikers among them.
Heard also responded to complaints about how slow the activity is so far in the area near Joe Harris Park and Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard. While Bike Week is in full swing over on Main Street and surrounding areas, things have been fairly quiet in the Black community.
On Wednesday, vendors were set up for business, but it was slow.
“It’s slow right now. Our Black bikers really come in tonight and tomorrow,” Heard said Wednesday. “Yes, the first weekend they’re not here in full force. I think people are complaining when they don’t know the facts.’’
Duane C. Fernandez Sr. of the Daytona Times contributed to this report.