Courtney Callender Playground

The Daily Plant : Wednesday, February 25, 2009

African-American Namesake Parks (Part II)

Today we continue our look at a sampling of African-American namesake parks in honor of Black History Month


Courtney Callender Playground
East Harlem’s Courtney Callender 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.

Dorrence Brooks Square
Dorrence Brooks Square, located in Manhattan between West 136th and 137th streets, St. Nicholas and Edgecombe avenues, honors Dorrence Brooks, an African–American soldier who died in France shortly before the end of World War I. Brooks distinguished himself in battle by taking charge of the remnants of his company after the enemy severely reduced their numbers and killed the commanding officers. The New York Times reported that Dorrence Brooks Square was the first public square to be named after an African–American soldier.

Holcombe Rucker Playground
Holcombe Rucker (1926–1965) dedicated his life to his community. Although he died young, his memory endures because of the major basketball tournament he founded. 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. The playground, located north of 155th Street and bounded by Frederick Douglass Boulevard and the Harlem River Drive, was named for him 1974.

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson Park
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. For years Robinson lived opposite this park at the Dunbar Apartments, home to many prominent African–Americans, including W.E.B. DuBois and A. Phillip Randolph. 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.


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 Armstrong. By the time Armstrong settled in Corona, Queens, had become an international celebrity. He played with such legends as Bessie Smith, Glenn Miller, and Bing Crosby.

Bland Playground
Bland Playground in Flushing is named in honor of James A. Bland, 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.

Staten Island

Corporal Thompson Square
West New Brighton's Corporal Thompson Square honors yet another war hero. In 1972, the park 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.


“I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird, and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt
(1882 – 1945)

Directions to Courtney Callender Playground


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