Laurens dedicates new Back Street Park to black-owned businesses

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LAURENS, S.C. (WSPA) — The City of Laurens on Friday introduced the public to its two newest amenities: a colorful mural on Harper Street and Back Street Park, a space dedicated to the legacy of Black-owned businesses that used to operate nearby.

“From our earliest days, African Americans have been vital to building and growing the place we call home,” Mayor Nathan Senn said.

The park, located next to the intersection of Main Street and Harper Street, is furnished with a fountain, gas lamps and a plaque commemorating the Black entrepreneurs who built successful businesses despite facing racism and Jim Crow laws.

“Just about every entrepreneur that existed on this Back Street, they was God-fearing people,” Laurens native Columbus M. Stephens said. “Plus, they leave a godly legacy. So, that to me, that’s a great starting point to be able to share with the children.”

Stephens’ father owned a barber shop in Back Street decades ago. He said he plans to bring his grandchildren to the park this weekend.

Despite the positivity the park aims to bring though, not all are happy about certain factors of its planning and its amenities.

District Two City Councilwoman Alicia Sullivan told 7News city council was excluded from planning the park and from planning its dedication ceremony. She says she also dislikes that the sign for the park is hidden from view from the outside. Then, there’s the fountain, which she says used to serve as a watering trough for horses back in the early 1900s.

“I don’t think that that was a good idea to place that there,” she said. “I thought that it kind of gave the wrong message.” 

She said Black community members used to be treated like animals, so the juxtaposition of the horse trough in the park celebrating Black success comes across as insensitive.

Despite criticisms of the new park, however, the mayor voiced his optimism about what the park brings to the community.

“I think this park is incredibly important for Laurens because of what it says about beautifying our city and our commitment to the future — but maybe most importantly — what it says about building bridges in our community,” he said.

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