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Eddie “Midnight Express” Tolan park is gone, memory remains

Tolan park is no more, but the story behind its naming is a fitting tribute to an African American Olympic athlete.
BY Mary Phillips Published: February 24, 2014

The sign is gone.

There used to be a sign on the southside of Reno near Blackwelder that said “Tolan Park.”

The land is still there, with beautiful old trees and neatly mowed grass.

It looks like it could be a park.

And, once it was.

In 1934, the city park board recognized the need for a new park for black residents in Ward 3.

A location was chosen, and a naming contest was held. Neighborhood residents voted to name the park for Eddie Tolan.

The story from The Oklahoman read:

“Eddie Tolan, Negro Olympic champion sprinter of the University of Michigan has been honored by his racial brothers in Oklahoma City.

“The new Negro park at West Reno and South Blackwelder avenues Wednesday was officially named the “Eddie Tolan park” on vote of the city park board.

“As the result of a name contest conducted by Negroes in the section, the park board voted favorably on the group's recommendation.”

Eddie Tolan was a black athlete who in 1932 won two gold medals for sprinting at the 1932 Olympics held in Los Angeles.

According to his biography at the African American Registry online, Tolan won 300 races in his track career and lost only seven (one to Oklahoma A&M's Peyton Glass).

He set a world record in the 100-meter of 10.3 seconds.

Tolan became a schoolteacher and died in 1967 in Detroit, Mich.

Tolan Park had a sorry sort of beginning.

The Oklahoman on Dec. 29, 1935, gave this description:

“'Tolan park, which at present consists mainly of an old river channel and the vestige of the city junk heap, may yet develop into a recreational center,' Donald Gordon, city park superintendent, indicated Saturday.

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