El Shabazz Playground
El-Shabazz Playground is named for the civil rights leader El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (1925-1965), also known as Malcolm X.
Malik el-Shabazz was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska. His father, Reverend Earl Little, was a follower of black nationalist Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), and was frequently harassed by the Ku Klux Klan for his beliefs. Reverend Little moved his family to Lansing, Michigan to escape the Klan, but he would not abandon his politics. He was brutally slain by the Black Legionaires, a Klan-like organization, but his death was falsely ruled a suicide. Little’s family was denied his death benefits as a result, and it financially destroyed them. Malcolm, just six years old, was removed to a foster home. His mother had a nervous breakdown. Malcolm dropped out of school in the eighth grade and became involved in a life of crime. Eventually taking on the name Detroit Red, he was jailed for burglary in 1946, and in prison he underwent a spiritual awakening as he learned the teachings of Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975), the leader of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, also known as the Black Muslims.
Elijah Muhammad taught that blacks should separate themselves from white society. Only by themselves, Elijah Muhammad taught, could blacks overcome their problems in America. Malcolm Little, imprisoned for burglary from 1946-1952, was inspired by the Muslim leader’s teachings and, taking the name Malcolm X (the X meant to signify a lost identity stolen by white oppressors), remade himself. After his release from prison, he began preaching in black communities throughout the United States. However, many of Elijah Muhammad’s teachings sharply conflicted with the more moderate civil rights movement, which sought desegregation and peaceful race integration. Consequently, mainstream society came to view Malcolm X as a hateful troublemaker.
In 1964, Malcolm X split from his teacher Elijah Muhammad. Once again, Malcolm X changed his name, this time to Malik el-Shabazz (the honorific El-Hajj would be added after his pilgrimage to Mecca). Equally important, he chose Sunni Islam as his new faith, which focuses on creating a unified American Muslim presence based on creed rather than race, and he became active in the international Muslim community. In doing so, he denounced his former teacher and the radical Nation of Islam. The resulting increase in tensions among Black Muslim organizations led to his assassination in February 1965.
The City first acquired this site, along Malcolm X Avenue between MacDonough and Macon Streets, in 1959. Four years later, the property was opened to the public as a playground jointly operated with the Board of Education. It was originally called P.S. 262 Playground after the adjoining school. In the late 1980s, the school was named El Hajj Malik el-Shabazz School and the name of the park was changed accordingly.
Local residents can enjoy basketball, handball, game tables, and the other play equipment that this park offers. There is also a comfort station and a flagpole, as well as benches from which visitors can relax or admire the elegant London plane trees (Planatus x acerifolia). In 2001, Mayor Giuliani sponsored a $77,154 renovation that installed new chain link fencing and fixed the pavement. A fun place in which to enjoy the outdoors, the park is also an important reminder of el-Shabazz’s beliefs and his impact on American society.