The city’s History Commission heard a presentation on DeReef Park Wednesday afternoon, laying the groundwork for a possible sign explaining the site’s African-American legacy.
City attorney Susan Herdina talked briefly about the history of DeReef Court, the small street surrounding what’s left of the park. It was named after Joseph and Richard DeReef, prominent and wealthy members of Charleston’s free black society in the early 19th century.
According to the city, an 1852 map shows the site as marshland. Joseph DeReef sold the filled-in land to the city in 1854, and the area around it remained a predominantly African-American neighborhood through much of the 20th century. DeReef Park had become notorious for dereliction and drug use by 2003.
Phase 1 of the area’s re-development was completed in July 2008 and added “a mix of 32 houses, townhouses, and condominiums on the south side of Morris Street,” according to earlier reporting in CP. In May 2011, the city’s Planning Commission denied an increase in density for phase two of the area’s redevelopment, which was to be built on top of the actual park.
The Life and Times of Dereef Park: A parable of gentrification
The Life and Times of Dereef Park
A parable of gentrification
Dereef Park is not the same place it was in 2002. Back then, the tree-shaded clearing between Morris and Cannon streets was a notorious haunt for alcoholics and heroin addicts, not the family-friendly enclave it is today.
By Paul Bowers
Construction of phase two was fully halted after the neighborhood advocacy group Friends of DeReef Park filed a lawsuit in 2013 against various parties, including the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism; the National Park Service; and the state liason for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Fund gave the city money to maintain DeReef Park in the early 1980s under the stipulation that it would be preserved indefinitely, according to the lawsuit.
Still, the historic African-American church that occupied part of the park was relocated to make way for the planned housing units.
“The stories of DeReef Court and its praise house are even more significant when viewed in context with its surrounding neighborhood,” reads a handout presented to the commission by Herdina. “The Brooks Motel hosted civil rights leaders such as the Reverends Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph D. Abernathy during their visits to the city.”
There is no word yet on what the interpretive sign would look like, or where it would be placed.