OXFORD, Ga. - New playground equipment brought curious minds as children enjoyed Asbury Street Park before the park’s opening day festivities began. The zip line was the main attraction as children lined up, one by one, to take a ride down the metal pipe.
A few feet away from the playground, locals gathered underneath the pavilion as the ceremony began with an introduction from Oxford Mayor Jerry Roseberry.
“It’s been a great adventure for the council, for the citizens and for the committee,” Roseberry said. “All of you who worked on this, we appreciate your help.”
Asbury Street Park was built on land with a rich history.
In the late 1880s, the Rev. Walter Branham and his wife, Lynn, purchased the property, located at 102 Watson St., for Jack and Emma Shields, according to a plaque inside the park’s pavilion. The Shields family built a house on the land and had 10 children.
Emma Shields began operating a laundry service from her home for the white community, mainly staff members from Emory College. The lines of laundry that were displayed on the property gave the property its name: “Shakerag.”
In the 1980s, Mildred Wright Joiner, granddaughter of the Shields, purchased the land. It remained in the Shields family until October 2015, when it was sold by Joiner’s executor and daughter, Helen Hedrick Griffin. Griffin sold the land to the city of Oxford for the development of Asbury Street Park.
“Her primary goal in selling the property was to establish a memorial in honor of this African American community,” were the words written on a plaque, “whose incalculable contributions have had a profound impact on our community and yet have gone largely unrecognized by history.”
Helen Griffin, along with other members of the Shields family, were in attendance for the grand opening of the park. A round of applause was given to the family for their contribution to the city’s new park.
“It was important to me and the rest of our family that there be some type of honorage so that history would not be lost,” Griffin said. “Today, you bear witness to the celebration of a park that will likely be unparalleled here during your and my lifetime. Be proud. Take ownership. Protect this place. Above all, have fun.”
Oxford had a dream for the park almost a decade ago, according to Cheryl Ready, chairwoman for the Trees, Parks and Recreation Board. It took four years for the city to obtain the land.
“We’re tickled it came out this well,” Ready said with a slight laugh.
Newton County District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson grew up in Oxford, having spent time there with his grandmother, and he addressed his love for the city during his speech. He stated that he looked for ways to help the city after being elected into the Newton County Board of Commissioners. He asked himself, “What can I do to help my people, the people that I love?”
“It’s about helping and loving one another,” Henderson said. “It’s the love I have for Oxford. It’s the love I have for all of Newton County.”
“I love you,” Henderson added, “and there ain’t nothing you can do about it.”
Asbury Street Park was built with the help of Jordan Engineering, Inc., Lakeside Land Design, LLC. and HCS Services, LLC.
The park offers walking trails, a pavilion, picnic areas, large playing field and playground equipment, for both smaller and older children.