A park visitor who says he paid $100 for a free pass to Denman’s Denman Park and its adjoining picnic area, which overlooks a nearby lake, has now taken the park to court.
A hearing on a class action lawsuit against Denman in the Western District of North Carolina is set for June 30, according to court records.
“The defendant in this case has engaged in deceptive practices,” wrote attorney Daniel J. Ransom in a complaint filed on March 21 in North Carolina Supreme Court.
“He has made false statements and misled the public about the nature of his activities, including the nature and scope of his camping, picnic, hiking and camping privileges at the park, as well as the nature, extent, and scope, of his use of the park.”
Denman denies Ransom’s accusations, and the lawsuit was dismissed on April 13.
The park, located in rural northwest North Carolina, is about 30 miles east of Asheville.
A sign on the entrance states: “Not for sale.”
A park spokesman said there was no “discriminatory practice.”
“The Denman Family, the owner of the property, has not engaged in any discriminatory practices, which would preclude the issuance of a park pass,” the spokesman said in an email.
The Denman family bought the property in 1996 and has operated the park since.
Denman was founded by a group of local African Americans in the 1920s, and has had a mixed record of its treatment of African Americans.
In 2003, the federal government stripped the family of the right to use the property for the purpose of housing African Americans for about a decade, but Denman continued to allow the use of its outdoor pavilions, picnic area and other areas as long as they were in compliance with the law, according the lawsuit.
“In a decade of public concern over racism, the Denman estate failed to provide any information to the public on how it managed the African American population of the Denham Estate,” the lawsuit said.
A 2012 federal appeals court ruling, however, said Denman failed to “fully and fairly” inform the public how the family planned to manage the black population in the estate.
The court held that “no reasonable person would have believed that the family would continue to have an open, visible African American community on the Denmans’ property, despite the fact that the black residents are not in any sense integrated into the general population.”
The lawsuit contends that “the Denman is in violation of the African Americans’ right to enjoy the park’s natural resources.”
The suit also names the owners of Denman as defendants, including Robert and Mary Denman, who bought the estate in 1996.
“Denman’s denial of blacks and African Americans from the Denmann Estate is the denial of a fundamental human right,” Ransom wrote.
“A public park is an essential part of the life of the community, and its use should be free of discrimination.”
The Denmans filed the lawsuit in October 2013, but the lawsuit is being heard in a separate case, according a statement from the lawsuit filed by attorney Andrew A. Boudreaux.
The lawsuit is seeking to compel Denman to remove the Denmen’s name from its name and website, as the Denaman’s own website states that the “Denmans’ name has been in use since 1874.”
A court order will likely require the Denmmans to pay the court costs.
The family’s website says that “in an effort to further protect the Denmins’ privacy and identity, the family has taken the step of removing all references to the Denmas from its website and other information.”
The statement said the Denmons are currently “disappointed in the outcome of this litigation, but remain confident that we can proceed to the best of our ability.”