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Frederick Douglass Playground

Frederick Douglass Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey (1817?-1895) was born in Tuckahoe, Maryland. The son of a slave named Harriet Bailey, Frederick spent his early years on Aaron Anthony’s plantation. Following his master’s death, Frederick was sent to Anthony’s son-in-law Hugh Auld, who lived in Baltimore, Maryland. While in Baltimore, Frederick was introduced to reading and writing by other slaves. Although literacy among slaves was illegal, Frederick developed a passion for the written word and educated himself by reading abolitionist literature. In 1834, Auld sold Frederick to a rural farmer in Talbot County, Maryland, who was a notorious “slave-breaker.” After four years of abuse and one unsuccessful escape attempt, Frederick managed to run away to New York City during 1838. Frederick viewed his escape as a rebirth and so changed his last name from Bailey to Douglass.

In 1838, Douglass married a free black woman from Maryland named Anna Murray. The couple settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Douglass became involved in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Within the congregation, Douglass preached abolitionism. In 1841, the renowned abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison witnessed Douglass deliver a riveting, heartfelt anti-slavery speech in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Garrison immediately enlisted Douglass as an abolitionist lecturer. By 1843 Douglass had become well known throughout the Northern United States for his fiery and credible oratory.

At Garrison’s urging, Douglass wrote an autobiography entitled Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass that was published in Boston in 1845. The publication proved to be a mixed blessing. Although the book sold thousands of copies, it publicly identified Frederick Douglass as an escaped slave subject to the Fugitive Slave Act, which required the return of escaped slaves. Fortunately, while lecturing in Britain Douglass encountered several prominent abolitionists who purchased his freedom.

Douglass continued to use writing as a way of spreading abolitionist messages. In 1847, he served as publisher for the abolitionist periodical North Star. Eight years later, he completed his second biography entitled My Bondage and My Freedom. During the 1850s, Douglass supported John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, and backed Abraham Lincoln’s presidential bid. In 1872 he moved to Washington, D.C., where he lived with his wife until her death ten years later. That same year, Douglass controversially married a white woman named Helen Pitts. Douglass completed his final work, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass in 1892.

Frederick Douglass Playground is located on Amsterdam Avenue between 100th and 102nd Streets. In 1954, the City of New York acquired this parcel via condemnation for the benefit of the nearby Frederick Douglass Houses. The playground opened on September 10, 1958. In August 1962, the Board of Estimate transferred the property from the New York City Housing Authority to Parks.

In 1998, Frederick Douglass Playground received a $150,000 renovation sponsored by City Council Member Philip Reed. This renovation allowed the installation of modular play equipment and safety surfacing as well as the repair of handball courts. In 1999, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani sponsored an additional $44,000 to complete the renovation. The playground now features a mini pool, a handball court, a basketball court, a comfort station, an asphalt baseball diamond, three basketball standards, swings, and camel animal art.

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