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Park board won't cover Lake Calhoun's name to honor Civil War dead

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Lake Calhoun
Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, Wednesday, July 1, 2015.
Riham Feshir | MPR News

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board denied a proposal Wednesday to drape Lake Calhoun signs with black cloth on the anniversary of the Civil War battle at Gettysburg.

The First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment helped hold an important defensive position and suffered the highest casualty rate of any Union regiment in the 1863 battle.

  One commissioner made the request to cover a name that honors slavery proponent John C. Calhoun.

  The board denied Commissioner Brad Bourn's request to add a resolution to the meeting's agenda. The resolution also requested support to rename the lake.

  Board vice president Scott Vreeland said the city has a process in place to rename lakes, which starts with a petition at the county level and ends with final federal approval from the U.S. Board of Geographic Names.

  But the board was unclear about the process and asked parks and recreation staff to present detailed information by September.

  Bourn said draping signs in black would've been a symbolic gesture by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to honor Minnesota Civil War casualties at Gettysburg.

  Hundreds of Minnesota soldiers who fought in the Civil War are buried at Lakewood Cemetery, about two blocks east of the lake.

  "They deserve more respect," Bourn said.

  Bourn introduced the motion as talk of renaming the lake has ramped up after the shooting deaths of nine people at a historic black church in South Carolina has caused some communities to re-examine public displays of Confederate symbols. More than 4,000 people have signed an online petition asking the board to rename the lake.

  Vincent Hopwood, whose African-American family has been in Minnesota since the 1800s, says the Calhoun name offends him.

"If I spent my entire life avoiding, boycotting or protesting everything that smacked of racism, I would never leave my basement," he said. "(But) if you look at what Calhoun did, he was instrumental in maintaining the economy, laws and thought process behind slavery during that period of time ... it's not something that I feel a municipality should let slide."

  But Arlene Fried of Minneapolis said the south Minneapolis lake is an important asset that has been recognized nationally as having among the best Midwest beaches.

  "Lake Calhoun is a brand and there is immeasurable value in its name," she said. "Tourists from all over the world visit our lakes and recognize their names."