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Black Arlingtonians Honored At Ceremony For Renovated Jennie Dean Park

Patch logo Patch 5/21/2022 Mark Hand

ARLINGTON, VA — Arlington County Parks and Recreation held a ceremony Saturday afternoon to celebrate the reopening of the newly renovated Jennie Dean Park, a recreation area along Four Mile Run with two baseball fields named in honor of men who made significant contributions to Arlington County and the Green Valley community.

As part of the renovation, Jennie Dean Park was expanded by 2.25 acres, which allowed for a larger and more modern playground. The baseball fields and athletic courts were relocated to increase playability, with more-efficient LED lights. The park’s picnic shelter and restrooms were also upgraded.

The renovated park also includes a new history walk, with a timeline of significant dates and events that happened at the site, including information about the Black baseball teams that played there.

The park is named after Jennie Dean, who founded the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth in 1893, which for more than four decades was the only institution of secondary education available to African American youth in Northern Virginia.

"Jennie Dean Park is deeply entwined with the history of Arlington," Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol said in a statement. "When the county was segregated, this was the park for Black Arlingtonians from Green Valley and beyond, who imbued this space with a love of community, sports and arts. In partnership with community leaders, these new renovations seek to both honor that history and build upon it."

For the new park, artist Mark Reigelman developed the “Wheelhouse,” which was inspired by both the mill that stood in the location in the early 1700s and the baseball diamonds at the park. “Wheelhouse,” made of painted aluminum, mirrored stainless steel and wood, references the region’s historical mills, while playing on classic baseball terminology.

The two baseball fields at Jenny Dean Park were named in honor of men, Ernest E. Johnson and Robert Winkler, who made significant contributions to Arlington County and the Green Valley community. (Mark Hand/Patch) © Provided by Patch The two baseball fields at Jenny Dean Park were named in honor of men, Ernest E. Johnson and Robert Winkler, who made significant contributions to Arlington County and the Green Valley community. (Mark Hand/Patch)

Starting in the early 20th century, the park became a major hub for Black baseball clubs in the region. Over the next few decades, more teams were formed, both semi-pro and recreational, run by members of the Green Valley community.

The two baseball fields were named after Ernest E. Johnson and Robert Winkler. Johnson became the director of Arlington County’s “Negro Recreation Section,” a separate division of the county’s segregated Department of Recreation in 1950.

Johnson oversaw the desegregation of Arlington recreation in the early 1960s, and then went on to serve the county for two more decades.

Christian Dorsey, vice chair of Arlington County Board, noted at the ceremony that under Johnson's leadership, the “Negro Recreation Section” expanded to include a variety of sports, dance, theater, musical and community events for all the Black American communities in Arlington.

In 1982, Arlington County celebrated Ernest E. Johnson Day in recognition of his contributions to the county. Johnson, who died in 1992, was picked in a survey commissioned by the Green Valley Civic Association as a worthy recipient for the field naming honor.

Winkler was raised in Green Valley and worked for Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation for more than 40 years. He coached sports for Green Valley youth, as well as the Drew women’s softball team, and was a community activist who preserved local fields for community sports.

Arlington County Parks and Recreation held a ceremony Saturday afternoon to celebrate the reopening of the newly renovated Jennie Dean Park, a recreation area along Four Mile Run. (Mark Hand/Patch) © Provided by Patch Arlington County Parks and Recreation held a ceremony Saturday afternoon to celebrate the reopening of the newly renovated Jennie Dean Park, a recreation area along Four Mile Run. (Mark Hand/Patch)

At Saturday's ceremony, Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th) read a resolution passed by the Arlington County Board in honor of Winkler.

The resolution noted that Winkler, who died in 2008, was known for paying the recreation fees for children who had no other means to afford the costs of participating in sports in the area. Like Johnson, Winkler was selected in a survey commissioned by the Green Valley Civic Association as a worthy recipient for the field naming honor.

In his remarks, Beyer spoke about how the details of people's lives are often forgotten, especially when their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are no longer around.

"But if you can get a ballpark named after you, you can live forever. The Robert Winkler ball field will keep Bob's name around for many, many decades to come," Beyer said.

The article Black Arlingtonians Honored At Ceremony For Renovated Jennie Dean Park appeared first on Arlington Patch.

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