A $1 million park project for downtown Davenport got off the ground Monday morning and could be done by this summer.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Friends of MLK group announced plans for a new park to honor the late civil rights leader. The MLK Commemorative Park will be built at 501 Brady St., and will be the City of Davenport’s first official memorial for the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Groundbreaking is set for April and the park is scheduled to open in the summer, according to Ryan Saddler, CEO of Friends of MLK.
Mr. Saddler said he sees the park as a “celebration spot” to honor King and the many Quad Cities pioneers who helped the civil rights movement.
“The vision for an MLK memorial began in 2014 with a City of Davenport Task Force,” Mr. Saddler said in a news release. “It is our hope that all Davenport residents and Quad Citizens will see this park as an opportunity to gather and honor the life and legacy of Dr. King. This park is our reminder of the fight for equity and justice that has made America what it is today.”
Today that future park is a snow-covered, empty piece of land next to the Friends of the MLK building off Brady Street. In a few months, Mr. Saddler hopes the park will be complete and feature:
- History panels that will have various themes, such as civil rights history, local pioneers of civil rights and hispanic heritage themes.
- A stage to host concerts and speakers.
- Room for vendors.
Mr. Saddler added that it’s important that the new park be located on this land because of its link to local history. The history of the property off Brady Street includes that it was the location of mixed-race restaurant, entertainment, and rooming houses from at least 1880s to the 1940s. Also, it could be the location of the Blue Bird Tavern, a legendary hot jazz and dance spot in the black part of town, Mr. Saddler said. Legend has it that young talent such as Bix Beiderbecke also performed here after hours.
“This park will provide Davenport residents with a place to gather, celebrate, remember and honor the legacy of someone who fought for the freedom of many,” Davenport Mayor Mike Matson said in a news release.
During a Monday news conference to introduce the park plans, Randy Moore, campaign chairman for the park project, said he is especially happy to help a project that honors MLK.
When he was a young child in Indianapolis, his family would drive from Indiana to Kentucky to visit a relative. The family would leave at 2 a.m. and drive through the dark, early morning hours to see his great-grandmother.
Mr. Moore said that as a youngster, he couldn’t understand why the family had to drive at night. It was only later in life that he discovered that it was dangerous for a black family to drive through Kentucky in the daylight during that era. It was King’s work that helped make it safe for black families to travel in the south, he said.
“We are here today in 2022 in a much, much different environment. I don’t want to say it’s better, but it’s different,” he added.
The $1 million park project has already raised 50% of the needed funds. The plan has received financial help from the City of Davenport, Mr. Saddler added. The Friends of MLK group is still seeking funds to pay for the park.
The Friends group describe itself as a non-profit corporation organized exclusively to empower and encourage the Quad City area to practice the civil and human rights for all races, colors, and creeds as exemplified by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.