Booker T. Washington Playground

Booker T. Washington Playground

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

What was here before?

This was once the site of Lion Brewery established in 1857 by August Schmid and Emanuel Bernheimer. The brewery closed in 1940 after serving as a community gathering place for over 100 years. The building was demolished in 1944, and its steel was recycled and used for the war effort.

How did this site become a park?

The City condemned this property for the construction of the West Side Vocational High School in 1943. Due to budgetary constraints, the school was never built, and NYC Parks acquired the parcel in 1950. The park shares its name with adjacent Booker T. Washington Middle School. The facility provides recreation for the school and local community with multiple basketball courts, handball courts, and a large open play area.

In 2006, a synthetic turf ballfield was installed in the park. In 2018, the playground was updated with new adult fitness equipment, basketball courts, and a handball court wall. Additional improvements were made in 2021 with updated fencing, synthetic turf, and backboards.

What is this park named for?

This playground is named for African American educator and author, Booker T. Washington (1856-1915). Washington was born into enslavement in Franklin County, Virginia. After the Civil War, he moved with his mother to Malden, West Virginia, where he worked in a salt furnace and coal mines. Washington put himself through school, and in 1872 he enrolled at the newly formed Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, (now known as Hampton University, a historically Black research university) where he worked as a janitor to help pay for his tuition. In 1881, Washington helped establish the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama (now known as Tuskegee University) and served as its first principal.

On September 18, 1895, Washington delivered a speech in Atlanta, Georgia, known as “The Atlanta Compromise,” in which he argued that the problems of African Americans could be greatly reduced through vocational training and economic self-reliance. Washington was criticized by several intellectuals, including W.E.B. DuBois, who believed economic reform without social reform would not be enough to substantially improve the status of African Americans in society. Despite this criticism, Washington continued his work, founded several organizations including the National Negro Business League, and advised Presidents Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) and William Taft (1857-1930) on matters of race. 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).

Park Information

Directions to Booker T. Washington Playground

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