Petersburg to reopen lake that closed to prevent desegregation

The Tri-Cities

PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — City council members in Petersburg approved a ‘monumental’ motion to reopen a lake that closed more than half a century ago to prevent desegregation.

Wilcox Lake closed nearly 60 years ago to prevent the lake’s recreational area from desegregation, a release from the city explained. 

The city has juggled with the idea of reopening the lake for years, and the closure was officially overturned after the motion was brought forth by Councilwoman Treska Wilson-Smith during a June 19 meeting. 

This decision does not immediately reopen the lake for recreational swimming, but does begin the process, according to the release.

Wilson-Smith brought the motion forth and it was seconded by Councilmember Charlie Cuthbert. 

“I brought up this discussion in 2013 with no success, however, I felt that Juneteenth this year was just the perfect time to bring it back to the table,” said City Councilwoman Treska Wilson-Smith. 

When African-Americans within the City attempted to open Wilcox Lake to everyone, Petersburg’s all-white city council instead decided to shut down the entire lake. The fight went to federal court, but the city removed all funding for the lake’s budget.

“This action was long overdue, and I am proud that we were able to bring it back to the light and to do it as a unified Council,” Petersburg Mayor Sam Parham said.

Lee Memorial Park surrounding Wilcox Lake is currently open to the public.

Petersburg staff will work to conduct all necessary tests and assessments to gauge the probability of permitting recreational swimming at Wilcox Lake. 

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