-William Lloyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) worked his entire life for the equality of all United States citizens. In particular, he used his position as the editor of numerous publications to foster support for the abolition of slavery.
Garrison was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts. His father, Abijah, was an itinerant fisherman, but drank heavily and deserted his family. Garrison began his career as an apprentice to a newspaper editor at age 13. He became editor of the Newburyport Herald in 1824 and of Boston’s National Philanthropist four years later. In 1828, Garrison and Benjamin Lundy, as co-editors of Baltimore’s Genius of Universal Emancipation, were sued for libel by the owner of a slave-transporting ship and served seven weeks in jail.
Garrison returned to Boston in 1830, and on January 1, 1831, he published his first issue of The Liberator, the newspaper through which, for 35 years, he denounced the practice of slavery. His quest for equality earned him equal amounts of praise, scorn, and respect, as well as several more stays in jail. Southerners’ reaction to The Liberator was strong, because Southerners erroneously assumed that Garrison’s writing reflected the predominant opinion in the North. The South Carolina Vigilance Committee offered a $1,500 reward for the arrest of anyone distributing The Liberator, while the Georgia House of Representatives offered a $5,000 reward for Garrison’s capture and trial.
In 1832, disappointed with the stance of organizations such as the American Colonization Society, which believed that free blacks should emigrate to a territory on the West Coast of Africa, Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society. Garrison’s society denounced slavery as a national sin and called for “immediatism,” the immediate emancipation of all slaves. In 1857, Garrison held an unsuccessful secessionist convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, calling for a peaceful secession of the North from the South.
When Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865, president 1861-65) issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, Garrison supported its enforcement, calling it the embodiment of all his beliefs and the culmination of all his hopes. Speaking in celebration of the 13th Amendment in 1865, Garrison received an ovation so great that he had to wait several minutes before it was quiet enough for him to begin. Later that year, after 1,820 issues of The Liberator, he ceased publication, saying, “It is enough for me … that every bondman is set free.”
This property, bounded by East 146th Street, Walton Avenue, and the Grand Concourse, was acquired by the city in 1913 and assigned to Parks in 1934. Garrison Playground opened in 1936, and reopened in 1940 after the widening of the Grand Concourse. In 1996, Council Member David Rosado sponsored a $41,000 renovation of the playground. Today the playground features handball walls, basketball courts, play equipment with safety surfacing, concrete play areas, benches, and chain-link fencing.
The playground is adjacent to P.S. 31, the William Lloyd Garrison School. Designed by C. B. J. Snyder in the Collegiate Gothic style, the school was constructed between 1897 and 1899, and is one of the oldest schools in New York City. Often called “The Castle on the Concourse,” P.S. 31 was designated a New York City Historic Landmark in 1986.