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In May, civic and community leaders gathered in Rockefeller Park to celebrate the formal groundbreaking of the African American Cultural Garden.
But now the real groundbreaking has begun as work crews, backed by heavy equipment and concrete trucks, have been busy transforming a grassy hillside into a monumental garden celebrating Cleveland’s African American community.
The new garden is on its way to join 29 other ethnic and nationality gardens that line a leafy, winding, three-mile stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The gardens began in 1916 with the establishment of the Shakespeare Garden, now the English Garden, on 250 acres of parkland donated by John D. Rockefeller in 1897. The first ethnic garden, the Hebrew Garden, took root in 1926.
Phase 1 of the two-phase African American project is expected to be completed by November. Phase 2 has no expected completion date yet because fundraising for the $2.5 million project is still ongoing.
But the sight of fresh concrete and overturned earth is a welcoming promise.
“To see such a beautiful vision coming to life is thrilling,” said Councilman Kevin Conwell,” who represents the ward in which the African American Cultural Garden is located.
“Every day I drive along MLK Boulevard, passing garden after garden, honoring various races and ethnic groups. Knowing that an African American garden will soon be among the others gives me and all Clevelanders a great sense of pride.”
The idea for an African American garden was conceived 38 years ago when the late Booker T. Tall, a professor of black studies at Cuyahoga Community College, stood before a gathering in Rockefeller Park and declared a four-acre area the future site of the African American Culture Garden.
That was back in 1977 when Professor Tall told his audience of 500 people, “We have accomplished two objectives today. We now have a place to honor some of our key leaders. Also, we are now participating members of the world community.”
After decades of delays and struggles raising money, the African American Cultural Garden finally saw some progress in 2007 when Mayor Frank Jackson, working with former Councilwoman Sabra Pierce Scott, formed a task force to move the project along.
Today, Councilman Conwell and Councilman Jeff Johnson have joined Mayor Jackson in a lead effort to make the memorial garden a reality.
“It was Booker T. Tall who sowed these seeds nearly four decades ago,” said Councilman Jeff Johnson. “Today, we are finally seeing the first sprouts of a wonderful garden that will celebrate and pay tribute to Cleveland’s African American community.”