Bounded by Lexington Avenue, East 105th Street, and East 106th Street, this park honors renowned civil rights activist and author Walter White (1893-1955). White was born in Atlanta, Georgia, a few decades after the Civil War. Considering his fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes, it must have been tempting for White, an African American, to pass himself off as being white. Instead, White chose to live his life proudly as an African American, championing the cause of civil rights and exploiting his appearance to investigate lynchings and race riots.
At age 25, White became Executive Assistant Secretary of the fledgling National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP). Eighteen years later, he was appointed the Executive Secretary of the organization. During his tenure, White expanded the number of NAACP branches, increased the membership to more than 500,000, and helped found the Legal Defense and Education Funds, which fought for social integration in the 1950s and 1960s. During World War II (1939-1945), White served as a special correspondent for the New York Post in Europe and Japan. He was also an accomplished author of both fiction and nonfiction. His most widely read works were two fictionalized accounts of Southern lynchings, Fire in the Flint (1924), Rope and Faggot: A Biography of Judge Lynch (1929), and his acclaimed autobiography, A Man Called White (1948). In 1937, White received the Spingarn Medal in recognition of his efforts to improve the lives of African Americans. Eight years later, he served as a consultant to the United States delegation at the organizational meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco. White died in New York in 1955.
This small playground has been a part of the Harlem community since the early part of the twentieth century. The Italian Benevolent Institute was the first organization to operate a playground on this site. In 1936, the City of New York acquired a 0.52-acre plot of land from the Institute and transferred jurisdiction over the property to Parks. In the following years, Parks lobbied to acquire more land because the small park could not accommodate the expanding community. In 1938, the park grew substantially after the successful purchase of a 0.118-acre plot adjacent to the northeast border of the park. Under the auspices of the Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (1882-1947), the park took its current shape with the purchase of a 0.046-acre plot on the southeast corner of the original park property.
This playground was named in Walter White’s honor by Commissioner Stern in 1989. Six years later, the park underwent a $119,000 renovation. The project supplied new playground equipment, including a turtle sculpture surrounded by safety surfacing, which offers children a fun and safe climbing area. In 1996, Parks completed a $24,000 rehabilitation of White Playground, funded by City Council member Phillip Reed, which featured the installation of improved safety surfacing. Parks renovated the playground three years later, again funded by Council member Reed. The $81,617 project added two new basketball courts to the park.
White Playground currently features basketball and handball courts, swings, and two sets of slide equipment with safety surfacing. The playground is also a Police Athletic League (PAL) site, and hosts summer basketball tournaments. Today, White Playground is more than a welcome place of recreation; it is a memorial to a dedicated activist whose courage and belief in racial equality serves as an inspiration to all.