African-American Namesake Parks
Just as there are many influential African-Americans who have shaped the landscape of our culture, there are many Parks properties that have been named for a fraction of these important Americans. The list below is a sampling of namesake parks; be sure to scour your park for historical signs and discover great citizens of all nationalities and creeds who have been honored.
Dred Scott Bird Sanctuary
There's a bird sanctuary in the South Bronx named for Dred Scott, a slave who sued for his and his family's freedom in the famous Dred Scott v. Sanford case of 1857. In the trial, that became known as the "Dred Scott Decision", Dred Scott argued that he should be granted his freedom because he lived with his owner in Illinois and territories where slavery was illegal before returning to the slave state of Missouri. After losing in the Missouri state court, his lawyers appealed to the United States Supreme Court. But the court found that no black person, free or enslaved, could claim United States citizenship; therefore, Scott was unable to petition the federal court for his freedom. The court also ruled that Scott's travel to free states did not qualify him to become free. This court's decision sparked outrage in the North and had a powerful influence on Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party and election, the secession of the South from the Union, and the Civil War. Dred Scott and his family became free, through their new owners, on May 26, 1857. Scott died four months later.
Here at the Dred Scott Bird Sanctuary in Grant Park, founders Troy Lancaster and Jim Beer named this place made for birds for Dred Scott because he is a reminder that "we can change our circumstances and make a difference."
Estella Diggs Park
Formerly known as Rocks and Roots Park, the park was named after Estella Diggs, the first African-American woman to represent the Bronx in the New York State Assembly.
Martin Luther King Triangle
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968) was a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. In 1963, he organized the March on Washington to support proposed civil rights legislation. There he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The following year, at age 35, King became the youngest man, the second American, and the third black man to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. One of the great American heroes of the 20th century, he devoted his life to fostering tolerance and equality on the ground that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” His courage continues to inspire people all over the world. King is honored with a national holiday on the third Monday in January, which falls close to or on his birthday, January 15th.
Charlton Garden in Morrisania honors the heroism of Korean War hero Sergeant Cornelius H. Charlton (1929-1951) who was awarded a Purple Heart and the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions in battle. When his platoon commander was seriously wounded during an assault, Charlton assumed command of the platoon, rallied the men, and re-launched the attack. Although his platoon suffered heavy casualties, he launched a second and third attack until the enemy position was completely destroyed.
Charlton received both awards while the American military was still partially segregated, and was barred from burial in Arlington National Cemetery because he was African American. In 1989, the Medal of Honor Society located and exhumed Charlton’s grave and re-interred his remains in the American Legion Cemetery in Beckley, West Virginia to rightly honor him.
Joseph Yancey Track and Field
In 1936, Joseph James Yancey, Jr. (1910-1991) co-founded the New York Pioneer Track and Field Club, an interracial team which nurtured many Olympic athletes. Yancey served as a Captain in the Army in the 369th regiment and was the head coach of the Jamaican Olympic team at the 1948, 1952, and 1956 Olympics. His 1952 group included the “Flying Quartet,” a relay team that ran the 1,600 meter race in 3 minutes and 3.9 seconds, thereby winning the gold medal in world-record time. He also worked with Olympic teams from the Bahamas, British Guiana (now Guyana), and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Yancey’s many lifetime awards and honors included induction into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Hattie Carthan Garden and Playground
Hattie Carthan (1900–1984) was a Bedford-Stuyvesant resident who always had an interest in trees. When she noticed conditions in her neighborhood beginning to deteriorate, Mrs. Carthan began replanting trees there, and in the process, helped found the Bedford-Stuyvesant Neighborhood Tree Corps and the Green Guerillas. Carthan also led the charge to preserve a particular Southern magnolia tree (Magnolia grandiflora) that became a symbol of the neighborhood. The tree, rare in the northeast, was brought on a ship from North Carolina in 1885. Carthan not only succeeded in having a wall built to protect this tree but also spearheaded the successful attempt to designate it an official city landmark in 1970. It is one of only two trees to be designated as such (and after the 1998 death of the Weeping beech in Queens, the only tree still standing).
Carthan continued her campaign by convincing the City to convert three nearby abandoned homes into the Magnolia Tree Earth Center. The brownstones on Lafayette and Marcy Avenues behind Hattie Carthan Garden date to the 1880s and now feature a mural depicting Mrs. Carthan. The Center gained not-for-profit status in 1972. In 1998, Parks named the site to honor Carthan.
Herbert Von King Park
Called the "Mayor of Bed-Stuy", Herbert Von King (1912-1984) is well known for his active role in the community for more than 50 years. At age 20, he founded Boy Scout Troop 219 and later received scouting's highest achievement, the Vigil Honor, for his efforts. He went on to serve as a member of the the local community board, the Community Theatre Guild, the Bedford Stuyvesant Boxing Association, the Magnolia Tree Center, and more. Von King was the Vice President and Program Director of the NAACP, Brooklyn Branch and was named the first Police Civilian Community Coordinator by the New York City Police Department. In 1983, he received awards from the State Senate, City Council, and 81st police precinct in recognition of his community service. Herbert Von King Park was formerly named Tompkins Park; in 1985, the park was renamed for Von King.
Christopher "Biggie" Wallace Courts
The basketball courts at Crispus Attucks Playground are named for world-renowned rapper Christopher "Biggie" Wallace, who lived a few blocks away on St. James Place and played basketball on these courts.
Shirley Chisholm Circle in Brower Park
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (1924–2005), educator, social rights advocate and celebrated politician was the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress and first major party African-American candidate to run for President of the United States. Chisholm was born on November 30, 1924 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. She was a child of Caribbean immigrants from British Guiana (now Guyana) and Barbados. She later attended Brooklyn College and earned a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from Columbia University while teaching nursery school. Chisholm became an authority on early education and child welfare. She taught remedial education at 1078 Park Place. Local residents recall Chisholm regularly holding classes in Brower Park during temperate weather. This section of Park Place now bears her name, “Shirley Chisholm Place.”
Crispus Attucks Playground
Crispus Attucks (c. 1723-1770) was killed in the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770. In 1768, following colonial protests over the passage of a series of import duties known as the Townsend Acts (1767), British troops were sent to Boston to keep order. The soldiers’ presence, however, only exacerbated tensions between the British and the Americans. On March 5, 1770, Attucks joined a crowd that was jeering at British soldiers stationed in Boston. Panicked, the soldiers fired into the crowd, killing five men and wounding two others. Attucks, standing toward the front of the crowd, was the first killed.
The soldiers involved stood trial but were acquitted, and the Boston Massacre became a rallying cry for radical American patriots who used the incident to sharpen the divide between the British and the Americans. Attucks, the runaway slave whose freedom was always uncertain, became a symbol of the American colonial fight for freedom.
El-Shabazz Playground (1925-1965) is named for the civil rights leader El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (1925-1965), also known as Malcolm X. Malcolm, whose father was brutally slain by the a Klan-like organization called the Black Legionaries, was inspired by the Elijah Muhammad’s teachings while imprisoned for burglary from 1946-1952. 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 started using name Malcolm X (the X meant to signify a lost identity stolen by white oppressors).
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.
Dr. Green Playground
In Brownsville, Green Playground honors New York City’s first African-American Chancellor of the Board of Education, Dr. Richard E. Green (1936-1989). Dr. Green received his appointment from Mayor Edward Koch in March, 1988. His term was cut short when he died of a severe asthma attack in May, 1989.As Chancellor, Dr. Green cited four main objectives: creating a legislative package to fund new schools, reforming the election process for school board members, giving teachers more say in decision-making processes, and making schools safer and more effective. Dr. Green adamantly believed that children should be "the center" of American culture.
In the early 20th century Charles Hamilton Houston (1895-1950) became the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review. Seven years after receiving his law degree from Harvard, he helped transform Howard University into a full-time, accredited law school as vice-dean. He served as the first ever full-time special counsel to the NAACP from 1935 to 1940 and played key roles in advocating for education equality and eliminating racial discrimination in the hiring process.
Martin Luther King Playground and the Kennedy King Playground
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968) was a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. In 1963, he organized the March on Washington to support proposed civil rights legislation. There he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The following year, at age 35, King became the youngest man, the second American, and the third black man to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. One of the great American heroes of the 20th century, he devoted his life to fostering tolerance and equality on the ground that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” His courage continues to inspire people all over the world. King is honored with a national holiday, on the third Monday in January, which falls close to or on his birthday, January 15th.
The park where it is located, formerly known as Underhill Gore, and dating to 1877, was renamed by the City Council for Rev. Benjamin Lowry in 1982. Reverend Benjamin James Lowry (1891-198Α) was the long-time pastor of Zion Baptist Church, located at 523 Washington Avenue in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn.
Detective Dillon Stewart Playground
This playground in Prospect Park is named for Detective Dillon Stewart, a police officer who was killed in the line of duty on November 28, 2005. A native of Jamaica, Stewart immigrated at age nine and grew up in East Flatbush. He graduated from Lafayette High School and Baruch College. Prior to serving as an officer, Stewart worked as an accountant at the public radio station WNYC. At age 30, he changed careers and quickly earned his reputation as a dedicated officer with multiple commendations for bravery.
On November 28, 2005, the 35-year-old Stewart was fatally shot after conducting a routine traffic stop. He was posthumously awarded the New York City Police Department Medal of Honor on June 15, 2006. Detective Dillon Stewart Playground serves as a lasting memorial to his heroism.
Ronald Edmonds (1935-1983) was appointed senior assistant for instruction under New York City Schools Chancellor Frank J. Macchiarola in 1978, where he served for three years. He initiated the School Improvement Project, which focused on discipline and management. He believed that improving schools for the poorest children would raise the performance of all children. At a time when many educators questioned the validity of testing, Edmonds felt that standardized reading and math tests gave students important information about their performance and indicated to educators and administrators the quality of the education being offered at the school.
In addition to his lasting influence on city schools, Edmonds wrote two books, The Negro in American History (1955) and Black Colleges in America (1978).
Benjamin Banneker’s (1731-1806) accomplishments spanned many disciplines. Based on his understanding of physics, he predicted solar eclipses, including the eclipse of 1789. From 1791 to 1802 he published the Almanac, the first scientific journal produced by an African American. Banneker helped survey Washington D.C. with George Ellicott and Pierre L’Enfant, the French architect who designed the original plan for the nation’s capitol.
George Washington Carver (1864-1943) is best remembered for his enterprising studies of the peanut. This research bred a wealth of derivations, including knowledge that led to the improved production of cheese, milk, coffee, flour, ink, dyes, wood stains, and insulating board. Despite his extensive research, Carver only patented three of his 500 agricultural inventions, reasoning, “God gave them to me, how can I sell them to someone else?” .
In 1916, Carver was appointed to the Royal Society of Arts in London, and in 1923 he received the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People’s (NAACP) Springarn Medal for his contributions to agriculture. Before his death in 1943, Carver contributed his life savings to a foundation for research at Tuskegee. His birthplace was designated a National Monument in 1953.
Dr. Ronald McNair Park
This park honors astronaut Dr. Ronald Erwin McNair (1950-1986). In 1984, McNair became the second African-American to make a flight into space. He was a mission specialist on the space shuttle Challenger. His life was cut short on his next mission, when the Challenger exploded shortly after take-off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 28, 1986.
Floyd Patterson Field
This park honors Floyd Patterson (1935-2006), a boxing legend who was the world heavyweight champion for the periods 1956-59 and 1960-62. Patterson was born in Waco, North Carolina and moved with his family to Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn when he was a small child. While attending the Wiltwyck School for Boys in Esopus, New York, Patterson learned how to box. In 1952, he won nine amateur boxing crowns, including the Olympic middleweight gold medal at the summer games in Helsinki, Finland.
Patterson began his professional career in December 1953 with a win against Dick Wagner. Three years later, Patterson knocked out heavyweight titleholder Archie Moore in the fifth round and became what was then the youngest champion ever at the age of 21. Patterson’s last fight was in 1972, when he was knocked out by Muhammad Ali.
After 19 years of professional boxing, Floyd Patterson retired at 37 with a career record of 55 wins, eight losses, one draw and 40 knockouts. After retiring from the ring, Patterson worked with many charitable organizations and became a member of the New York State Athletic Commission, serving as one of the state’s three boxing commissioners.
Jesse Owens Playground
Jesse Owens (1913-1980) was one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. Owens went to Ohio State University, running track on a scholarship as a Buckeye. He won eight National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) titles, but he gave his greatest performance at the 1935 Big Ten Conference Championships. Owens set or tied four world records: the 100-yard dash, the 220-yard dash, the 220-yard low hurdles, and the long jump. He went to the brand new Parks stadium on Randall’s Island and won the Olympic trials. Jesse Owens, already famous, was soon to become a legend.
In 1936, Germany hosted the Olympic Games in Berlin. Adolf Hitler saw the Berlin Olympics as the perfect stage to demonstrate German strength and Aryan superiority to the world. This was the moment Jesse Owens stepped into, and his extraordinary prowess propelled him into history. He won four gold medals. He set Olympic records in the 200-meter dash and long jump, tied a world record in the 100-meter dash, and was part of the world record-breaking 4x100-yard relay team. Germany won more medals than any other country, but it was Owens that the world applauded. The sharecroppers’ son had shown up a dictator, and his achievements, modesty, and patriotism made him a hero in the United States.
Jackie Robinson Park
Baseball great Jackie Robinson (1919–1972) is honored not only by the Jackie Robinson Parkway, which connects Brooklyn and Queens but also by two city parks–one in Brooklyn and another in Manhattan. In Brooklyn, Jackie Robinson Park is located on Reid Avenue between Chauncey and Marion Streets; the park was named for Robinson in 1981.
On April 15, 1947, Robinson made history as the first African American to play in a Major League baseball game, paving the way for generations of black athletes to compete in America’s national pastime. Born in Cairo, Georgia, and raised in Pasadena, California, Robinson became the first student to letter in four sports at the University of California, Los Angeles: baseball, basketball, football, and track. Robinson played professional football for the Los Angeles Bulldogs before serving in the army during World War II. After the war, Robinson played baseball in the Negro Leagues for the Kansas City Monarchs, where he caught the eye of Branch Rickey (1881–1965), general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey signed Robinson on August 28, 1945 to join the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate in the International League. Two seasons later, Robinson made it to the majors, leading the Dodgers to six World Series appearances. He retired in 1956 with a lifetime batting average of .311, and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
Potomac Playground/David Ruggles Playground
This playground and the adjacent school honor abolitionist, writer, and medical practitioner, David Ruggles (1810-1849), who opened the first African-American owned bookstore in America. Ruggles also devoted his life to ending slavery and obtaining equality for African Americans. He spent the majority of his life in New York City where he helped over 600 slaves, most notably Frederick Douglass, escape from slavery to the North and Canda, using the Underground Railroad.
While operating the bookstore, Ruggles wrote three anti-slavery pamphlets, Extinguisher, Extinguished, and Abrogation of the Seventh Commandment by the American Churches. Ruggles also edited publications such as The Genius of Freedom, The Colored American, The North Star, and The Mirror of Liberty. In 1846, Ruggles moved to Massachusetts, where he was a successful medical practitioner of the “Water Cure,” a hydropathical medical treatment. He treated notables such as William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) and Sojourner Truth (1797-1883).
Reverend Linnette C. Williamson Memorial Park
Known to the community as “Rev” (1923-1990), she provided many services during her long ministry, including three day camps, a remedial reading program, a youth center, a day care for working mothers, the Head Start program, a soup kitchen and food pantry. She co-founded of the New York Council of Smaller Churches, a nonprofit, social services agency created to alleviate the plight of the homeless, the substance abusers, and the neglected. The Rev also advocated for vest-pockets parks in empty lots of inner-city neighborhoods. The creation of vest-pocket parks, the first of which still exists today at West 128th Street and Fifth Avenue, continues to be an inspiration for redisgning urban space for recreation.
Johnny Hartman Square
Johnny Hartman (1923-1983) was a distinguished vocalist who is best remembered for his recordings of romantic ballads. After serving in the army in World War II, Hartman returned home where he won an amateur singing contest which led him into a professional singing career, working with pianist and bandleader Earl “Fatha” Hines. In 1949, when Hines’ band folded, Hartman was recruited to sing with jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie; their collaboration was memorable because of the contrast between Gillespie’s ‘hot’ trumpet playing and Hartman’s smooth ‘cool’ baritone voice. Hartman sang briefly with the pianist Errol Garner and his trio.
His career jumped in 1963 when he recorded with avant-garde saxophonist John Coltrane. The unlikely collaboration between Hartman’s more traditional vocal serenade and Coltrane’s far-reaching melodies was a huge success. Between 1947 and 1961 Hartman recorded eight albums, but his 1963 recording John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman was considered one of his greatest. Hartman continued to record to the end of his life. In 1981, he was nominated for a Grammy for his album Once in Every Life.
Greg Marius Court
The basketball court at Holcombe Rucker Park is named in honor of Greg Marius (1958-2017), a young rapper of the Disco Four who founded the Entertainers Basketball Classic at Rucker Park. What began as a tournament between rival hip-hop groups, then became a renowned series of games featuring hip-hop celebrities and NBA players, from Diddy to Kobe Bryant, with high profiled spectators, from NBA Commissioner David Stern to fomer President Bill Clinton.
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson Playground
This park, located on 150th Street and Seventh Avenue, is named for an important figure in African–American culture: entertainer and philanthropist Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878-1949). For years Robinson lived opposite this park at the Dunbar Apartments, home to many prominent African Americans, including W.E.B. DuBois and A. Philip Randolph. Dismayed by the lack of play spaces for children, in 1934, Robinson persuaded John D. Rockefeller, Jr., owner of the property, to deed the land to the City as a public park. The playground opened in November of that year and included a jungle gym, swings, seesaws, and handball courts.
Robinson’s commitment to the community earned him the honorary title “Mayor of Harlem.” He used this influence to help save a remnant of the historical Tree of Hope that stood opposite the Lafayette Theater at 131st Street and Seventh Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard). The stump of the elm, the bark of which performers once rubbed for good luck, was preserved along with a commemorative plaque that Robinson funded.
Ralph Bunche Park
In 1950, Ralph Bunche (1904-1971) became the first African American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation work between Israel and the Arab States as the UN mediator in Palestine during the 1940s.
In 1955 Bunche was appointed undersecretary of the United Nations, and in 1957 secretary for special political affairs. In 1956 he was civilian supervisor of the UN peacekeeping forces in the Suez area. In 1960 he was part of a UN peacekeeping effort in the Congo, and in 1964 he helped to mediate differences between the Greeks, Cypriots, and Turks. For a lifetime of extraordinary achievement in the international arena, he was awarded the United States Medal of Freedom by President John F. Kennedy in 1963. One year after he retired from the UN in 1970, he died in New York City.
Courtney Callender Playground
East Harlem’s Courtney Callender (1937-1983) Playground is named after New York City’s first African-American Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Affairs. Callender began his career in Parks & Recreation, where he established the Community Relations division, which initiated the policy of including neighborhoods in park decisions.
Callender served as Community Relations Officer from 1966 to 1969 until Commissioner August Heckscher appointed him Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, three years after the Office of Cultural Affairs was transferred from the Mayor’s Office to the Parks Department. He held that position until 1972, organizing many community events, including the Harlem Cultural Arts Festival.
Frederick Douglass Playground
After his infamous autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, published in 1845, Douglass (1817?-1895), an escaped slave living in New York became a prominent abolitionist, lecturer, world leader, and founder of abolitionist journal, The North Star.
Marcus Garvey Park
Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park is named for Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887–1940), the black nationalist leader who strived to promote racial pride and black economic independence. Garvey was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica on August 17, 1887 and emigrated to the United States in 1916, settling in Harlem. In 1918, Garvey established the New York chapter of his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).
At the UNIA’s first convention, held at Madison Square Garden in 1920, Garvey officially launched his Pan-African movement, announcing plans to build an independent nation in West Africa. The park, originally known as Mount Morris Park, was renamed for Marcus Garvey in 1973 under a local law introduced by Councilmember Charles L. Taylor.
Martin Luther King Playground
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. In 1963, he organized the March on Washington to support proposed civil rights legislation. There he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. The following year, at age 35, King became the youngest man, the second American, and the third black man to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. One of the great American heroes of the 20th century, he devoted his life to fostering tolerance and equality on the ground that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” His courage continues to inspire people all over the world. King is honored with a national holiday, on the third Monday in January, which falls close to or on his birthday, January 15th.
Fred R. Moore (1857-1943) served as a confidential messenger for twenty-two years to five Secretaries of the Treasury during the Grant, Hayes, Arthur, and Cleveland administrations. His career highlights include being a Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue, editor of Colored American magazine, editor and publisher of The New York Age, Brooklyn’s first African American to be a candidate for the New York Assembly, U.S. Minister to Liberia in 1912, a Harlem aldermen in 1927 and in 1929, Secretary of the Board of Managers of the Katy Ferguson-Sojourner Truth Homes, president of the Parent-Teacher Association of P.S. 119, trustee of the Monarch Lodge Building Corporation, officer of the National Negro Business League, President of the local Business League, and director of Dunbar National Bank.
A. Philip Randolph Square
Asa Philip Randolph (1889-1979) was a labor and civil rights leader. He organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first black union in the country, and successfully pressured President Roosevelt to issue the Executive Order 8802, which banned discrimination in the defense industry and led to the establishment of the Fair Employment Practice Commission. In 1955, the veteran labor leader became the first black vice-president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). On August 28, 1963, Randolph and Bayard Rustin directed the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, during which civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
Dr. Ronald McNair Playground
This park honors astronaut Dr. Ronald Erwin McNair (1950-1986) who died in the Challenger space shuttle tragedy on January 28, 1986. Born in Lake City, South Carolina on October 21, 1950, McNair graduated from North Carolina A&T State University and received his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976. NASA selected him as an astronaut candidate in 1978.; His first and only complete space mission began on February 3, 1984. This was the first mission to use the space arm, which McNair operated. His second mission lasted only 73 seconds, before the shuttle exploded in the upper atmosphere, above the Atlantic Ocean, killing all seven on board.
Pelham Fritz Recreation Center
A native of Trinidad, Pelham Fritz (1920-1988) moved to Harlem at age seven and spent his free time in what was then called Mount Morris Park. Before embarking on a 38-year career with Parks which culminated in the post of Assistant Commissioner for Recreation, Fritz’s career in recreation began at a City juvenile detention center. His first job with Parks was as an athletic coach at the Hamilton Houses Playground at 140th Street. Fritz was one of the original organizers of the Holcombe Rucker Community Basketball League and is remembered for being kind yet firm with the children he worked with and for his perpetual optimism.
Fritz was involved with many organizations in addition to Parks, including the Harlem YMCA, the Abyssinian Baptist Church, and the Children’s Aid Society, where he served as a trustee. Fritz was honored many times throughout his career for his exceptional community service. After he died, it was noted that he had collected no fewer than 102 different plaques for his service to the community.
Hansborough Recreation Center
John Rozier Hansborough Jr. (1907-1981), a former Parks recreational employee and Harlem community leader, was the first of two African Americans in the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials. As a founder of the Sports United Basketball Association, he trained several outstanding basketball officials who worked in the National Basketball Association.
Hansborough joined Parks as a Playground Director in 1938 and assembled many star-studded teams in track and field, football, basketball, softball, and baseball. He was promoted to Assistant Supervisor of Recreation in Manhattan in 1969 and implemented a cultural arts program at the Mount Morris (now Pelham Fritz) Recreation Center.
Jackie Robinson Park
Baseball great Jackie Robinson (1919–1972) is honored not only by the Jackie Robinson Parkway, which connects Brooklyn and Queens but also by two city parks–one in Brooklyn and another in Manhattan. In Manhattan, Jackie Robinson Park is located between Bradhurst and Edgecombe avenues from West 145th to West 155th streets; the park was originally known as Colonial Park until it was renamed for Jackie Robinson in 1978 under a local law introduced by Councilmember Fred Samuel. Manhattan’s Jackie Robinson Recreation Center also features a bronze portrait bust depicting Robinson. The piece was created by Inge Hardison (b. 1904) and was installed in the entryway of the recreation center in 1981.
On April 15, 1947, Robinson made history as the first African American to play in a Major League baseball game, paving the way for generations of black athletes to compete in America’s national pastime. Born in Cairo, Georgia, and raised in Pasadena, California, Robinson became the first student to letter in four sports at the University of California, Los Angeles: baseball, basketball, football, and track. Robinson played professional football for the Los Angeles Bulldogs before serving in the army during World War II. After the war, Robinson played baseball in the Negro Leagues for the Kansas City Monarchs, where he caught the eye of Branch Rickey (1881–1965), general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey signed Robinson on August 28, 1945 to join the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers’ Triple–A affiliate in the International League. Two seasons later, Robinson made it to the majors, leading the Dodgers to six World Series appearances. He retired in 1956 with a lifetime batting average of .311, and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
Holcombe Rucker Playground
The world-famous Rucker Playground basketball court is named for African-American New Yorker Holcombe Rucker (1926-1965), a former NYC Parks playground director who founded the Rucker Tournament.
Rucker grew up in Manhattan, attended Benjamin Franklin High School, and between 1948 and 1964, worked for Parks as a playground director in numerous Harlem locales. In 1947, he started a basketball tournament in Harlem. The Rucker League’s motto was “each one, teach one,” and it stressed education in combination with recreation. Rucker personally taught participants reading fundamentals, graded their homework, and let success on report cards influence who would play. Throughout the course of the tournaments, Rucker helped to obtain over 700 college athletic scholarships for the participants. In the 1960s, Rucker transformed his local league into a basketball institution by organizing games where his best players shared the court with professionals such as Wilt Chamberlain.
Dorrance Brooks Square
This park is named in honor of Dorrance Brooks (d. 1918), an African American soldier who died in France shortly before the end of World War I. A native of Harlem and the son of a Civil War veteran, Brooks was a Private First Class in the 15th Infantry. In World War I, African American soldiers served in segregated regiments and were not eligible for aid from the Army Nurse Corps or the American Red Cross. In spite of these discouragements, Brooks distinguished himself as a faithful and patriotic soldier. Brooks was praised for his “signal bravery” in leading the remnants of his company after his superior officers were killed.
Col. Charles Young Playground
When Charles Young (1864-1922) 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. From 1912 to 1915 Young served as military attaché to Liberia, where he helped to reorganize the National Military Constabulary. 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.
James Weldon Johnson Playground
Weldon (1871-1938) founded the first African American-oriented daily newspaper, The Daily American, and in 1898 became an attorney and the first African American to be accepted into the Florida Bar since Reconstruction. In 1900, to commemorate Lincoln’s birthday he wrote the poem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” which was later adopted by the NAACP as the “Negro National Hymn.”
in 1906, through Booker T. Washington’s influence, he received a consular post from the Roosevelt administration. While serving at the Venezuelan consulate in Puerto Cabello, Johnson continued to write extensively, and in his three years there he wrote his novel The Autobiography of An Ex-Colored Man. After a subsequent position with the Nicaraguan consulate, Johnson moved back to New York in 1913 and was made editor of the magazine New York Age, the pre-eminent African-American daily newspaper of its time. He assumed the post of field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1916, becoming the NAACP’s first African-American executive secretary. Ever prolific, Johnson compiled three anthologies of African-American poetry and spirituals and continued to publish his own work even while devoting his career to activism.
He is buried in Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn.
Booker T. Washington Playground
While a dean at the newly founded Tuskegee University in Alabama, Washington (1856-1915) delivered his famous speech “The Atlanta Compromise” in which he argued that the problems of African Americans could be greatly reduced through vocational training and economic self-reliance. The speech drew accolades from many people of all ethnic groups. Some intellectuals, however, criticized Washington as too moderate. Washington drew fire from W. E. B. DuBois for his beliefs; DuBois believed economic reform without social reform to be an acceptance of subordination. Despite some criticism, Washington continued his work and founded several organizations including the National Negro Business League. He also authored many books including The Future of the American Negro (1899), Up from Slavery (1901), Life of Frederick Douglass (1907), The Story of the Negro (1909), and My Larger Education (1911).
Louis Armstrong Stadium and Community Center
Louis Armstrong Stadium, located at the north end of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park near Shea Stadium, is dedicated to the legendary jazz musician Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong (1901–1971). By the time Armstrong settled in Corona, Queens, “Satchmo” (short for “satchel mouth”, an apparent play on his breath capacity when playing his instruments) had become an international celebrity. He played with such legends as Bessie Smith (1894–1937), Glenn Miller (1904–1944), and Bing Crosby (1903-1977).
Cutting records, performing for royalty, filming movies, and playing in bands small and large, Armstrong traveled an average of 300 days out of the year. Armstrong is also honored with a large-scale painted cast-iron and welded steel abstract sculpture at the Louis Armstrong Community Center on 108th Street in Corona, Queens, a short walk from Armstrong’s last home. The piece, Little Dances, was sculpted by Howard McCalebb (born 1947), and pays homage to Armstrong with an open composition of tubular steel painted bright green, with raised text on a cylindrical base, that transposes the jazz musician’s musical interpretation into free form in space.
Bland Playground in Flushing is named in honor of James A. Bland (154-1911), a Flushing native who was known as the “world’s greatest minstrel man.” A self-taught musician, Bland wrote more than 700 songs and, at the height of his career, he earned over $10,000 a year on tours. From 1882 until 1901, Bland traveled all over Europe, enjoying tremendous popularity and performing for a number of dignitaries, including Queen Victoria and Prince Edward of Wales.
Unfortunately, when he returned home to America, he had difficulty acclimating to the new vaudeville style and lost the rights to almost all of his songs. He died alone in Philadelphia. Only later was his genius recognized by music scholars.
Roy Wilkins Recreation Center
In 1931, Roy Wilkins (1901-1981) began his career with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Wilkins rose to the position of NAACP President and was its guiding force from 1955 to 1977. As president, he worked tirelessly to promote voter rights legislation, fair housing laws, and equity in wages. During his tenure he received the Spingard Medal, the highest award given by the NAACP. From 1934 through 1949, Wilkins also served as editor of The Crisis, a magazine founded by W.E.B. Dubois. Upon Wilkins’s death in 1981, President Ronald Reagan called for American flags to be flown at half-mast.
This triangle honors Queens resident Bernard Adolph Tepper (1925–1966), one of twelve New York City firemen killed fighting a blaze on 23rd Street and Broadway in Manhattan on October 18, 1966.
Tepper joined the New York City Fire Department in 1955. He was was actively involved with his community, serving as a Cub Scout Coordinator from 1959–62, as a member of the United Civic Association of Baisley Park, Queens, and on the Executive Board of the Parents Association of P.S. 131 in Queens. The park was named for Bernard Tepper on April 14, 1967.
Lewis H. Latimer House
Lewis Howard Latimer (1848-1928), an African-American inventor and electrical pioneer and the son of fugitive slaves, lived in the house from 1903 until his death in 1928. During his career, he worked with three of the greatest scientific inventors in American history, including Alexander Graham Bell, Hiram S. Maxim, and Thomas Alva Edison. He played a critical role in the development of the telephone and, as Edison’s chief draftsman, he invented and patented the carbon filament, a significant improvement in the production of the incandescent light bulb.
Arthur Ashe Stadium
This stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park honors tennis player Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr. (1943-1993). At the 1968 U.S. Open, Ashe defeated several competitors to win the men’s singles title. By 1975, he was ranked the number-one tennis player in the U.S. and became the first African American to win the men’s singles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Corporal Thompson Park
West New Brighton’s Corporal Thompson Square was named for Corporal Lawrence Thompson, the first African American from Staten Island to be killed in the Vietnam War. Corporal Thompson enlisted in the Marine Corps and served with the honor guard in Vietnam. Refusing a medical discharge for a foot ailment, Thompson re–enlisted for a second tour of duty and was killed in action in 1967.