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.

This playground is named for African American educator and civil rights leader Booker T. Washington (1856-1915). Washington was born a slave 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 between his heavy work schedule, and in 1872 he enrolled at the newly formed Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, now known as Hampton University, where he worked as a janitor in order 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 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).

Booker T. Washington Playground is located on 108th Street between Columbus Avenue and Amsterdam Avenue. The City of New York acquired this property on March 8, 1943 through condemnation. The property was intended to be used for the construction of the West Side Vocational High School. Due to budgetary constraints, the project was never built, and NYC Parks acquired the parcel on July 20, 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, Booker T. Washington Playground received a synthetic turf ballfield, a surface that provides for safer play, lasts longer than grass, and requires less maintenance. The surface also reduces environmental impact thanks to the elimination of chemical pesticides and fertilizer, fossil-fuel-powered equipment, and irrigation using drinking water. Beginning in 2017, the playground received additional site improvements including updated fencing, turf, and backboards to ensure the playground remains enjoyable and useful for students and neighbors.

Park Information

Directions to Booker T. Washington Playground

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