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Col. Young Playground

Colonel Charles Young Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.
This playground honors Colonel Charles Young (1864-1922) a distinguished army officer, cartographer, teacher and diplomat who pioneered the entrance of African-Americans into fields which were previously closed to them.

Born in Mayslick, Kentucky on March 12, 1864, one year before the end of the Civil War, Young was raised in Ripley, Ohio where he graduated from high school in 1880 and taught for several years. When he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1884, Young was the ninth African-American to be admitted, and the third and last to graduate until nearly half a century later.

In 1894 he was assigned by the War Department to teach military science and tactics, as well as French and mathematics, at Wilberforce University in Ohio. Young served on the home front during the Spanish-American War (1898), but served two tours in the Philippines during the Insurrection (1901-03). In 1906, Young became military attaché to Haiti, the first African- American military attaché in United States history. In addition to making maps, Young reported to the Army War College on Haitian society and government, and wrote a book entitled Military Morale of Nations and Races (1912).

From 1912 to 1915 Young served as military attaché to Liberia, where he helped to reorganize the National Military Constabulary. In 1916, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) – which celebrated its 100th year anniversary in 2009 -- awarded him the Spingarn Medal for his work in Liberia. Young established a school for African-American soldiers at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. When, at the age of 53, he was found to be physically unfit for service in World War I, Young was retired and promoted to full Colonel. Young died in Lagos, Nigeria on January 8, 1922. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The City acquired this property in January 1944, and opened the playground to the public in September of that year. The playground is located across the street from the 369th Core Support Battalion Armory, home to the “Harlem Hellfighters”, who were active in both World Wars, and in the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars. From 1936 to 1940 this unit was commanded by another military pioneer, Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., who was the first African-American general in the United States military.

Designed to accommodate a wide range of recreational interests, Colonel Young playground features basketball courts with bleachers, handball courts, ballfields, a spray shower, swings and other play equipment. A mural depicting city street scenes adorns the comfort station. New play equipment was installed in 2004 at the cost of $600,000 in funds allocated by the mayor, and in 2009, the basketball and handball courts adjacent to the FDR Drive were reconstructed with $1.2 million in funds allocated by the City Council. New drinking fountains and benches, as well as new tree plantings enhance the landscape.

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