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Eleanor Roosevelt Playground

Eleanor Roosevelt Playground

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

This Bedford-Stuyvesant playground is named after First Lady and United Nations Delegate Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962). A niece of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born into a socially prominent New York family. Orphaned by age eleven, she was educated in England before returning to New York where she was both a debutante and a settlement house volunteer. She married her distant cousin, and future president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) in 1905.

Eleanor Roosevelt maintained active involvement in social and political organizations such as the League of Women Voters, the American Red Cross, and the Women’s Trade Union League, even as she raised five children. Whilst Franklin Roosevelt suffered his debilitating bout of polio, his wife became his representative at many public functions. She was the leader of the women’s platform committee for the 1924 Democratic National Convention. Eleanor Roosevelt even served as the vice-principal and as a teacher in a New York City school for a short while.

After aiding in her husband’s successful Presidential campaign in 1932, Eleanor Roosevelt became a very active First Lady. Holding weekly press conferences and making many public appearances at home and abroad, she championed the cause of racial equality and supported innovative programs to fight poverty and unemployment. During her service with the United Nations, she chaired the commission that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A popular author, she published several books as well as a syndicated newspaper column. She died at the age of 78 in New York City, and she was buried with her husband at Springwood, the family’s home at Hyde Park.

Originally inhabited by the Canarsie Indians, the Dutch West India Company colonized the area called Bedford in the 1630s and 1640s. It was a farming village populated by Dutch families and their African slaves. By 1790, more than a quarter of Bedford residents were of African descent. In the early 19th century, prominent local landowners began selling land to free African-Americans who formed communities that became Weeksville and Carrsville. The population of the area began to boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the extension of mass transit, as German, Irish, Scottish, and Jewish communities settled in both Bedford Corners and Stuyvesant Heights. These newer immigrants to the area gradually moved further west, and when Bedford-Stuyvesant condensed into one neighborhood in 1940, it had become the largest African-American community in New York City.

In the past few decades, the community was active in many initiatives to fight discrimination and improve urban living conditions. In 1967, Senators Robert Kennedy (1925-1968) and Jacob Javitz (1904-1986) helped residents found the first non-profit community development corporation in the United States, the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. In 1968, the neighborhood elected Shirley Chisholm (b. 1924), the first African-American woman to serve in the United States Congress.

In the 1960s, Bedford-Stuyvesant urgently needed additional elementary school facilities to stem the tide of rising enrollment and to replace obsolete structures erected in the early 1890s. The City acquired the land at the intersection of Lewis, Dekalb, and Stuyvesant Avenues and Kosciusko Street in 1964. It built Public School 81 on the site, and soon neighborhood parents and school officials began lobbying for the construction of a playground on the adjacent vacant lot. Jointly operated by Parks and the Department of Education, the playground opened a few years later as P.S. 81 Playground. In 1985, Parks renamed the site Eleanor Roosevelt Playground as a tribute to the humanitarian activist.

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