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Flushing Meadows Corona Park

The Daily Plant : Wednesday, February 1, 2006

FEBRUARY IS BLACK HISTORY MONTH

Today marks the first day of Black History Month, a time to celebrate the many contributions that African Americans have made to our country and our society. New York City’s parks are home to more than a dozen monuments commemorating the lives and legacies of African Americans—and three more are on the way. The sculptures range in subject from notable musicians and authors to humanitarians and scholars; many of them were crafted by African American artists.

The most recent addition to the city’s rich collection of sculptures honoring African Americans is an homage to Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese in Coney Island’s KeySpan Park. The privately-financed project—unveiled in November 2005 by Mayor Bloomberg and the widows of these two men—commemorates the courageous and noble friendship forged between the two athletes.

The idea to commemorate these two New York City icons arose shortly after Pee Wee Reese’s death in August of 1999, when Newsday columnist Stan Isaacs suggested that instead of naming a parkway or highway as a memorial to Reese, it would be a fitting tribute to honor the two men with a statue in Brooklyn. Isaacs’ suggestion was telecast on the Mets game that night, and the late Jack Newfield, then with the New York Post, wrote several columns in support of the idea.

Then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani embraced the proposal for the monument, and in December 1999 announced the formation of a committee to study the project and commission the statue. Mayor Giuliani was one of the lead donors, making a $10,000 gift after he left office. The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City (at that time, called New York City Public/Private Initiatives, Inc.) worked with a committee to oversee the selection of an artist and a site for the monument.

The selection of the artist was delayed after September 11, 2001, and the project lapsed for a period of time in the aftermath. Ultimately, William Behrends of Tryon, North Carolina was selected. He is a noted sculptor whose work has included a series of monuments of Giants baseball players, including one of Willie Mays that is located outside SBC Park in San Francisco.

When Mayor Bloomberg took office, he resurrected the project and asked Deputy Mayor for Administration Patricia Harris to take the lead in getting it completed. It was decided that the monument would be located just outside the entrance to KeySpan Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, thereby making it accessible to all. The monument consists of two 8-foot-tall bronze figures that stand on a six-sided pedestal inscribed with the following words:

"This monument honors Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese: teammates, friends, and men of courage and conviction. Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Reese supported him, and together they made history. In May 1947, on Cincinnati's Crosley Field, Robinson endured racist taunts, jeers, and death threats that would have broken the spirit of a lesser man. Reese, captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, walked over to his teammate Robinson and stood by his side, silencing the taunts of the crowd. This simple gesture challenged prejudice and created a powerful and enduring friendship."

Manhattan is home to another sculpture of Jackie Robinson, housed in the Jackie Robinson Recreation Center alongside two commemorative tablets in the entrance.

In 2000, Parks & Recreation honored the late, great Arthur Ashe with a sculpture in Queens’ Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Appropriately placed in the United States Tennis Center, this sculpture, entitled Soul in Flight: A Memorial to Arthur Ashe, pays tribute to the humanitarian with a classical nude positioned to evoke images of his livelihood on the tennis court. His graceful form is framed by curved walls, inscribed with his inspirational motto, "From what we get, we make a living; What we give, however, makes a life."

Brooklyn’s Prospect Park is home to Peter and Willie, bronze figurines inspired by a series of children’s books written by African American author Ezra Jack Keats. A perfect addition to Imagination Playground, the sculptures were created by Brooklyn artist Otto Neals in 1997.

Duke Ellington is a staple of Harlem cultural history, and Robert Graham erected a monumental sculpture in his name in Frowley Circle in 1997. The piece depicts the legendary composer, pianist, and bandleader in his element: beside a concert grand piano, constructed from bronze, gilding and granite.

Among the pieces that will soon debut in New York City’s parks is a sculpture in honor of Malcolm X, which is currently in the design phase. Another monument in honor of abolitionist, writer, orator, and publisher Fredrick Douglass is currently in construction. Sculptors Algernon Miller and Gabriel Koren are working to represent the life of Douglass and the slaves’ passage to freedom. Be on the lookout for this piece at Fredrick Douglass Circle, located at 110th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.

In keeping with the abolitionist theme, who more appropriate to honor than Harriet Tubman, the instrumental leader of the Underground Railroad. A full standing portrait of Tubman will be made from bronze and natural boulder in Tubman Triangle in Manhattan.

 

QUOTATION FOR THE DAY

"All great truths begin as blasphemies."

George Bernard Shaw
(1856-1950)

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