Sumner Playground lies between Sumner Avenue, Madison Street, Throop Avenue, and Monroe Street. The playground is named for Sumner Avenue, which in turn was named either for Jethro Sumner (ca. 1733-1785), a Revolutionary War general who served under George Washington and commanded the North Carolina forces from 1781 to 1783, or for Charles Sumner (1811-1874), an abolitionist senator from Massachusetts. The street was named in 1887, thirteen years after Charles Sumner died, which, along with his historical prominence, makes him the more likely namesake.
Charles Sumner was born in Boston and graduated from Harvard Law School. Before entering the Senate, he practiced law and advocated prison reform and educational improvement. He was elected to the Senate in 1851 and vocally took up the abolitionist cause. His criticism of the practice of owning slaves provoked Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina to break into the Senate chamber and beat Sumner with a cane so severely that it took him three years to recover. Following the Civil War, Sumner fought to require that voting rights be guaranteed to African-Americans before Southern states could be readmitted to the Union.
Sumner Street was named Yates Street when it was originally laid out between Fulton Street and Broadway in 1835. It opened between Fulton and McDonough and between Halsey and Hancock in 1870. It was extended in both directions in the 1870s and renamed after Sumner in the 1880s. Since 1987, Sumner Street has also been called Marcus Garvey Boulevard, after the black activist of the early 1900s.
The property for the park was bought by the city in 1944 to provide a playground for P.S. 44, which had been built in 1940. Originally known simply as P.S. 44 Playground, the park was called Israel Putnam Playground from 1985 to 1997. Putnam (1718-1790) fought in the French and Indian War and was a general in the Revolutionary War. He played an important role in the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, but was unable to stop the British in the Battle of Long Island in 1776 and lost Fort Montgomery and Fort Clinton in 1777. Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern renamed the park Sumner Playground in 1997.
Between 1993 and 1995, the park was completely reconstructed with $830,000 from Borough President Howard Golden. This provided new play equipment, a restoration of the comfort station, fencing, benches, a new spray shower, and swings for younger and older children. In 1997, Council Member Victor Robles contributed another $87,000 for an irrigation system in the grass ballfield. The park also offers basketball and handball courts, a kiddie pool, slides, an asphalt play area, a flagpole with yardarm, and London planetrees.