CELEBRATING BLACK HISTORY IN NEW YORK CITY PARKS
February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate the many contributions that African Americans have made to society. New York City’s parks are home to more than a dozen monuments commemorating the lives and legacies of African Americans, with three more in the works. The sculptures range in subject from notable musicians and authors to humanitarians and scholars. These permanent sculptures, which focus on African American themes, were also primarily crafted by African American artists.
In discussing the importance of such sculptures to parks, Director of Art and Antiquities Jonathan Kuhn remarked, "This particular group of sculptures represents the growth and evolution of our outdoor art and monuments collection. Now, the collection more fully reflects and embraces the diversity of our society, the heroes or our own time, the recent past or a past previously neglected, while mirroring social trends and ideals of the day."
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 1997 in Frowley Circle. The piece depicts the legendary composer, pianist, and bandleader in his element, beside a concert grand piano, all constructed from bronze, gilding and granite.
Manhattan is also home to a sculpture of Jackie Robinson, the African American ball player who broke through the "color barrier" surrounding Major League Baseball during the 1950s. His courage and inspiration are embodied in a bust of the athlete made by sculptor Inge Hardison in 1981. It can be seen in the Jackie Robinson Recreation Center alongside two commemorative tablets in the entrance.
Among the pieces still in the construction phase is a monument in honor of abolitionist, writer, orator, and publisher Fredrick Douglass. Sculptors Algernon Miller, creator of Tree of Hope, 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. A third piece is being constructed to commemorate the friendship of two Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese, to be installed in Brooklyn’s KeySpan Park.
Written by Alexandra P. Vinci
QUOTATION FOR THE DAY
"The world is before you, and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in."