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Dorrance Brooks Square

Dorrance Brooks Square

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

This square honors 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 New York Infantry. Until 1948 African American soldiers served in segregated divisions, which usually provided only support functions, but the 15th NY Infantry was renamed the 369th United States Infantry and assigned to fight in the French Army’s 161st Division. The black soldiers proved courageous in battle and earned many decorations. 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.

When this square was dedicated on June 14, 1925, more than 10,000 people attended the ceremony presided over by Mayor John F. Hylan and Colonel William Hayward, commander of the 15th infantry. The New York Times reported that Dorrance Brooks Square was the first public square to be named after an African American soldier. When the square was dedicated, a flagpole and a cannon stood at its south end. At the time, many parks were decorated with surplus World War I vintage artillery pieces, but during World War II, the demand for metal was so high that Parks donated all but eight of its cannons as scrap metal for the war effort.

In the late 1960s, Dr. Mamie Clark (1917-1983) and Ella Baker (1903-1986) formed an organization called “We Care Media Arts” in St. Mark’s United Methodist Church across the street from this park. We Care helped area residents obtain employment, job training, health care, and legal assistance, and published City Scene, a community events newspaper. In 2002, two benches and two trees were dedicated to Dr. Clark and Mrs. Baker, in honor of their contributions to this community.

Parks acquired this site, bounded by West 136th and 137th Streets, St. Nicholas, and Edgecombe Avenues, by condemnation on July 22, 1913. Today, the square falls under the aegis of the Greenstreets program. Members of the Edgecombe Avenue Block Association help to maintain the square’s benches, tree pits, and flowerbeds.

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