As events commemorating Black History Month come to a close, a local leader is reflecting on a decades-old gathering that continues to serve Springfield’s African American community.
Park Day Reunion at Silver Springs Park is held the first weekend of every August, and holds a lot of memories for Cheryl Clay, president of the Springfield NAACP.
“It’s the park that the African Americans were allowed to use pre-integration; this was the only park that we could attend. It’s the park I grew up in, I used to live right up the street here, so back in the day it was sort of the gathering place.”
Silver Springs Park was established in 1918, and for a long period was the city’s only public park serving black residents. It played host to sports leagues, including semi-pro baseball. Clay recalled that when she was a child, it remained a gathering place for the African American community after integration.
“This was traditionally the African American neighborhood, so the park was kind of the cornerstone, and it was prior to community centers so the park was a gathering place for people.”
Park Day Reunion was established in 1952. The weekend starts with a hospitality night, dance, and a Miss Silver Springs beauty contest on Friday. On Saturday morning there’s a parade that ends at the park, followed by a community picnic.
“It’s a tradition that has gone on for my lifetime, as long as I can remember, and it’s kind of neat. You see people that you haven’t seen in years, who graduated and moved on, but somehow we all tend to try and schedule our vacations to come back to Springfield for that weekend.”
Clay says it’s like “a city reunion for the community” that encourages past and present African American citizens to celebrate traditions that emerged before integration.
Walking through the park grounds, Clay recalled when she used to sit on the bridge with her friends after church, playing horse shoe and croquet, and her sons catching crawfish in Jordan Creek for their grandfather.
The park’s features and its surroundings have undergone some changes since then, including new apartments just east of the site, the former location of Timmons Temple. The church was seen as an anchor of the historically-black community. Instead of being torn down, a campaign raised enough money to move the structure onto the park grounds, in view of its original location.
For Clay, the changes suit her just fine.
“Change goes on, but the first weekend in August this park will be packed. It is every year. I don’t see this year being any different.”
This year’s Park Day Reunion runs Aug. 4 – 6.