January 26th, 1970

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Georgia’s Decision to Close Park Rather than Integrate

In 1911, United States Senator Augustus O. Bacon executed his will, devising to the City of Macon, Georgia, “a park and pleasure ground” for whites only. He explained that “in limiting the use and enjoyment of this property perpetually to white people, I am not influenced by any unkindness of feeling . . . I am, however, without hesitation in the opinion that in their social relations the two races . . . should be forever separate.”

Baconsfield Park opened in 1920 as a large and lush recreation space. As trustee of the park, the City of Macon honored Senator Bacon’s wishes and for decades operated it as a “whites only” facility. That changed in 1963 when the city determined that, as a public entity, it could no longer constitutionally enforce segregation. Disgruntled, Baconsfield’s Board of Managers sued to remove the City of Macon as trustee and preserve the park as one for white residents only.

In May 1963, black citizens intervened, filing a lawsuit challenging Baconsfield’s racial restriction as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, in February 1964, the City of Macon resigned as trustee; several months later the court appointed three private individuals as new trustees, and the racial segregation policy continued.

Black residents appealed to the United States Supreme Court. In January 1966, the Court held in Evans v. Newton that Baconsfield could no longer be operated on a racially discriminatory basis: “the public character of this park requires that it be treated as a public institution subject to the command of the Fourteenth Amendment, regardless of who now has title under state law.” Rather than integrate, however, the Georgia Supreme Court responded by terminating the Baconsfield trust and closing the park to the public altogether.

Black residents of Macon again appealed to the United States Supreme Court, contending the state court’s action violated the Fourteenth Amendment. But on January 26, 1970, in Evans v. Abney, the Court upheld the Georgia Supreme Court’s order, writing: “When a city park is destroyed because the Constitution requires it to be integrated, there is reason for everyone to be disheartened.” Baconsfield Park remained closed and is now a strip mall; Georgia’s Bacon County is named for Senator Bacon.