James A. Bland Playground
The Daily Plant : Monday, February 6, 2006
A Closer Look
Last week, The Plant detailed various sculptures across New York City that have been crafted in honor of the African American experience. Today, we look at parks named for the lesser known African American women and men who have called New York City home.
In the Bronx, Charlton Garden honors the heroism of Korean War hero Sergeant Cornelius H. Charlton. Sergeant Charlton was awarded a Purple Heart and the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions in battle; when his platoon commander was seriously wounded during an assault, Charlton assumed command of the platoon, rallied the men, and re-launched the attack. Though his platoon suffered heavy casualties, he launched a second and third attack until the enemy position was completely destroyed. Charlton received both awards while the American military was still partially segregated, and was barred from burial in Arlington National Cemetery because he was African-American. In 1989, the Medal of Honor Society located and exhumed Charlton’s grave and re-interred his remains in the American Legion Cemetery in Beckley, West Virginia to rightly honor him.
Staten Island’s Corporal Thomson Square honors 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.
Bland Playground, in Queens, 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. Unfortunately, when he returned home to America, he had difficulty acclimating to the new vaudeville style and had lost the rights to almost all of his songs. He died alone in Philadelphia. His genius was recognized years later by music scholars.
In Brooklyn, Green Playground honors New York City’s first African-American Chancellor of the Board of Education, Dr. Richard E. Green. Dr. Green received his appointment from Mayor Edward I. Koch in March 1988. His term was cut short when he died of a severe asthma attack in May of 1989. As Chancellor, Dr. Green cited four main objectives: creating a legislative package to fund new schools, reforming the election process for school board members, giving teachers more say in decision-making processes, and making schools safer and more effective. Dr. Green adamantly believed that children should be "the center" of American culture.
Finally, in Manhattan, 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 Hecksher 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. He held that position until 1972, organizing many community events, including the Harlem Cultural Arts Festival.
QUOTATION FOR THE DAY
"Every strike brings me closer to the next home run."