CLEARWATER — The Greenwood Panthers are coming home and their return includes a largely forgotten slice of the city's black history and — possibly — a new name for the park where they play.
The Panthers haven't played on their home field at Phillip Jones Park at 1190 Russell St. since it was closed by the city in 2009. However, the youth football program will begin practicing at home this summer, following the City Council's approval last week of $464,345 to complete an environmental restoration of the field.
But a new twist has emerged. Some community residents, including the president of the Panthers, are considering asking the city to rename the field for Reynolds Miller Sr., one of the Panthers' founding members who died in 2010. "We're trying to come up with something to keep his memory alive," said Panthers president Joe Marshall Sr.
Marshall and other community residents said no one knows who "Phillip Jones" was. Neither did Kevin Dunbar, the city's Parks and Recreation director.
There's a reason for that. Identified on the city parks website and signs at the site as Phillip Jones Park, it actually was named for two people, Charles Phillips and Monroe Jones, said Talmadge Rutledge, 84, who has lived in the North Greenwood community his whole life.
Over the years, Phillips and Jones have faded from the community's memory, but Rutledge knew both men in the 1930s. Charles Phillips was one of the first African-American police officers in Clearwater, he said, though he doesn't know if Phillips was formally employed by the Clearwater Police Department. Phillips didn't wear a uniform, but he carried a gun and kept the peace during segregation, he said.
Monroe Jones was an early civil rights leader, who worked "trying to get some things done for black people," especially providing recreational opportunities for the black community, Rutledge said. "They were both highly respected for what they did," Rutledge said.
Miller, the man whose name the Panthers would like to see on the park, was also highly respected, Rutledge said, and he personally has no objection about renaming the park for Miller, because "a lot more people" know him.
Pinellas County Schools owned the land and gave it to the city in 1949, which turned it into a park. For decades, children played football there. The city closed the field after discovering it sat on top of an old dump site filled with ash.
For many years, Dunbar said, the city has preferred to name its parks for the geographic areas where they are located. He can't remember a park named for an individual being changed to honor another person since he took over the department in 1999. But a process is in place to permit it, Dunbar said. A 1997 city resolution outlines the steps. First, paperwork must be filed with the Parks and Recreation Department. Then the City Council must sign off on the effort. After that, the Parks and Recreation Board contacts neighborhood associations and holds a public meeting before making a recommendation to the council for a final decision.
Current city board and council members can't have parks or facilities named for them while in office.
But, most importantly, naming a park or facility for a person should happen only on rare occasions and the individual should "have given lengthy civic service" to the city and "be of local importance rather than of state or national prominence," according to the resolution.
Marshall is looking into how to change the name of the park, but hasn't made any final decisions. But regardless of what the park is called, it will be good to be back on home turf after three seasons of playing on other fields around the city, Marshall said.
"Homecoming is going to be great," he said.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.