Councilman seeks to rename Pershing Square for Biddy Mason

Wave Staff and Wire Reports

LOS ANGELES — City Councilman Kevin de León has officially started the process of renaming downtown’s Pershing Square as “Biddy Mason Park,” in honor of a former slave who became a prominent Los Angeles resident and landowner in the 1850s.

“This past Juneteenth, I announced the intent to rename Pershing Square, L.A.’s oldest city park, after the legendary Biddy Mason and to ceremoniously rename from Cesar Chavez Avenue to Olympic Boulevard, down Spring Street, as Biddy Mason Way,” the councilman said during the June 21 City Council meeting.

De León introduced separate motions to rename Pershing Square, and establish the ceremonial street sign. The two motions are expected to be considered by the council’s Transportation Committee, and the Neighborhoods and Community Enrichment Committee.

According to de León’s office, the renaming would serve as a symbolic and overdue recognition of Bridget “Biddy” Mason’s life.

Mason was born into slavery, and was forced to walk from Georgia to California with her slave owners. She successfully petitioned the court in Los Angeles for her freedom.

She later became a nurse, midwife and one of the first Black women to own property in the city, making her one of the wealthiest women in California.

Mason was known for her investments and philanthropy, which helped shape the city, de León said.

He noted the effort to honor Mason began in February 2022 during a wreath-laying ceremony. At a tribute wall in downtown Los Angeles, the councilman met sisters Cheryl and Robynn Cox, fourth-great-granddaughters of Mason.

According to the councilman, the sisters challenged him to find a fitting way to honor their ancestor.

The memorial plaque, located at a mini-park named Biddy Mason Memorial Park, located between Broadway and Spring streets, is hidden next to a parking lot, de León noted.

According to the Los Angeles Conservancy, Mason bought a nearly 1-acre site in 1866, between what is now Broadway and Spring streets and Third and Fourth streets, the site of the mini-park.

“It’s dark and no one knows that it even exists to this very day,” de León said. “Biddy Mason’s legacy and her remarkable contributions to our city deserves nothing less than the highest recognition.”

De León announced his plans to rename Pershing Square at apress conference June 19.

“Biddy Mason’s story reminds us that history is not just a collection of dates and events, but a tapestry of lives lived, struggles endured, and triumphs achieved,” de León said in a statement. “This is more than a renaming. This is a reclamation of a legacy long overdue. I want to make sure that her legacy is never forgotten, but enshrined into our city permanently.”

Cherly and Robynn Cox joined the councilman, and gave remarks in support of the effort.

“We understand that as a Black woman she had not received the ceremonial accolades that many founders and contributors to the city received,” Robynn Cox told the Los Angeles Times.

“So having something like a park that is historic and was around when she was alive and has been a central part of the city is a great step in the right direction for her receiving the recognition for what she has done.”

Pershing Square was originally dedicated in 1866 by then-Mayor Cristóbal Aguilar as La Plaza Abaja, then later dedicated in honor of World War I Gen. John J. Pershing in 1918.

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