Susan Smith McKinney Steward Park
Susan Smith McKinney Steward Park
What was here before?
The Board of Estimate (a now defunct municipal body) first acquired this property in 1944 as part of the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE). Built under the direction of Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Chairman Robert Moses (1888-1981) between 1946 and 1964, the BQE was intended to relieve congestion on local streets and aid industry and commerce by shortening transportation time between the boroughs. Its construction caused widespread displacement of local residents and businesses.
How did this site become a park?
Demolition and construction staging to build the BQE resulted in several remnant properties in public jurisdiction in proximity to the new expressway. One year after construction of the BQE began, Parks assumed jurisdiction over this property, which remained nameless until 1998 when it was named Bridge Park 2 in reference to the nearby Manhattan Bridge.
Funds were allocated for conversion to parkland in 1962, and plans for an open paved play area were filed in 1963. The park was finished around when the BQE opened. In 2020 the facility was slated for an upgrade including a multi-purpose synthetic turf field, a new adult fitness area, modern play equipment and spray showers and a performance stage.
Who is this park named for?
In 2020, as part of an NYC Parks initiative to expand the representation of African Americans honored in parks, the park was renamed for pioneering physician Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward (1847 – 1918). Dr. Smith was born in 1847, the seventh of ten children. Her parents, Sylvanus and Anne Smith, were prosperous pig farmers and early settlers of Weeksville, a large community of free Blacks in central Brooklyn.
Her brother’s death in the Civil War and the cholera epidemic of 1866 inspired Dr. Smith to pursue a career in medicine. She financed her medical education by giving music lessons and graduated as a valedictorian from the New York Medical College in 1870. She was the first African American female physician in New York State and the third in the nation.
She maintained a medical practice from 1870 to 1895, specializing in prenatal care and childhood diseases, and co-founded the Brooklyn Women’s Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary. She also served as an official physician at the Brooklyn Home for Aged Colored People, one of the first medical institutions in Weeksville. She was a member of the Kings County Medical Society and New York State Homeopathic Medical Societies. A talented musician, she was organist at the Bridge Street A.M.E. Church in Brooklyn for 28 years.
In 1871, she married the Rev. William G. McKinney. Following McKinney’s death in 1894, she married Theophilus G. Steward, a chaplain with the 25th Infantry. She moved with him out west, living in Montana, Nebraska, and Texas before settling in 1898 at Wilberforce University in Ohio, where she served as a resident physician and taught health and nutrition until her death in 1918. She is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn and was eulogized by friend and noted sociologist Dr. W.E.B. Dubois.
In addition to her impact as a medical professional, McKinney Steward was a steadfast advocate for women’s rights and racial equality, helping found the Women’s Loyal Union and serving in the Equal Suffrage League of Brooklyn. In 1911, she delivered a speech titled “Colored Women in America” at the first Universal Race Congress.