The Story Behind Marvin Caplan Park By Carl Bergmann

The Story Behind Marvin Caplan Park By Carl Bergmann

Thanks to Councilmember Adrian Fenty, Shepherd Park's only park has been named in honor of Marvin Caplan, longtime neighborhood organizer, writer and Civil Rights pioneer. Introduced last year, the Marvin Caplan Memorial Park Act was recently passed by the Council and signed by Mayor Williams. It will become law in June following the standard Congressional review period.

Caplan Park is the small area bounded by Alaska Avenue, 13th and Holly Streets, NW. Until now, it was unnamed. The naming was proposed in a petition originated by the Geranium Street Neighborhood Watch and sponsored by Neighbors, Inc. Councilmember Fenty's legislation was cosponsored by Chairperson Linda Cropp and five other Councilmembers. It was The District's Department of Parks and Recreation, which is responsible for park maintenance, and in charge of carrying out the act.

There are several plans for the park. There was a formal dedication ceremony tentatively scheduled for the afternoon of Saturday, June 7. The Parks Department has assigned its landscape architect to develop a plan for the park including the place of a sign and plaque honoring Marvin. The community will have to pay for the sign and plaque. Plans for the park are limited to improved plantings, etc., to preserve its current nature.

Who then was Marvin Caplan? For those in Shepherd he is best known as the founder of Neighbors Inc, almost 50 years ago. Neighbors, under his leadership, took on the block busting real estate interests through civic activism, legislation and promotion of a stable, integrated community.

Nationally, Marvin was the long time Executive Director of the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights. He developed and led the lobbying for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and Title IX's prohibition of gender discrimination in education.

Marvin was a noted writer who published numerous articles on many topics including his autobiography, which came out shortly before his death in 2000. Finally, Marvin was an active and thoughtful member of Tifereth Israel Congregation, a participant in the Yiddish revival movement and a wonderful storyteller, good friend and neighbor.

Each time I send out an email or make a cold call about the park, I find another person who knew him misses him and wants to help.