In honor of the 51st anniversary of Black Solidarity Day, NYC Parks proudly announces it has named 10 park spaces in honor of the Black experience in New York City, memorializing that which is locally, nationally, and historically relevant. In June, the agency pledged to continue to demonstrate how it stands in solidarity with the Black Community in its fight to combat systemic racism. The naming of these park spaces is among the many ways NYC Parks is acknowledging the legacies of these Black Americans, encouraging discourse about their contributions, and working to make the park system more diverse and reflective of the people it serves. The spaces named now represent five Black Women, four Black Men and one Black settlement group; and represent arts, culture, education, sports and more.
“Systemic racism is far-reaching and real. As the leader of this agency, and as a Black Man, I feel obligated and honored to increase representation in our system to mitigate the impacts of racial and social injustice,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP. “The park spaces we are naming represent a renewed effort to incorporate Black history into the fabric of our beloved city. By reminding New Yorkers and the world alike of these historical figures, we are shining a light on how these people strengthened our communities, advocated for all people, and improved the quality of life for the people who have been impacted by their work. We want to preserve and protect their legacy, and build upon it by having their names live on in communities all over New York City.”
The newly named parks spaces feature some of the most recognizable names in African American history including Langston Hughes and Ella Fitzgerald; and local community leaders like Rev. Dr. Maggie Howard who was dubbed Staten Island’s Mother Theresa and Sandy Ground, the oldest continuously inhabited free black settlement in the United States. All of these influential people and places add richness to these parks. A complete list of parks and background are as follows:
The lawn at St. Nicholas Park is now James Baldwin Lawn. The entrance to the park located at 135th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue has been named James Baldwin Lawn. Baldwin who was born in New York City was a world-renowned author, essayist, playwright, scholar, activist, and speaker with childhood associations with Harlem and DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. Baldwin later resided in Greenwich Village.
St. Nicholas Playground North is now Langston Hughes Playground. Background: Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. Though not born in NYC, he is most closely associated as a leader in the Harlem Renaissance, and lived in a now landmarked Harlem townhouse for more than two decades.
Bridge Park 2 is now Susan Smith McKinney Steward Park. Susan Smith McKinney was the first African-American woman in New York State to receive a license to practice medicine. Born, raised, lived, and practiced in Brooklyn.
Bridge 1 is now Maritcha R. Lyons Park. Lyons was an American educator, civic leader, suffragist, and public speaker in New York City and Brooklyn, New York. She taught in public schools in Brooklyn for 48 years, and was the second black woman to serve in their system as an assistant principal.
Tremont Park is now Walter Gladwin Park. Walter Gladwin was the first Black elected official in Bronx history, and held several prominent offices in Bronx government. He was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1953 and represented Tremont and Morrisania. Later in his career, he was appointed as a judge and was active with the wider Bronx community, including as president of the Bronx chapter of the NAACP and the Director of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce.
Heritage Field in Macombs Dam Park is now Elston Gene Howard Field. Elston Gene Howard was the first African American on the NY Yankees roster (1955-67). He was named to the American League All-Star team nine times. Macombs Dam Park is located directly across from Yankee Stadium; a fitting location to honor this legend.
Underhill Playground is now Ella Fitzgerald Playground. Ella was a Jazz vocalist and music icon. She lived in the landmarked Addisleigh Park section of Queens for many years.
East Elmhurst Playground is now Helen Marshall Playground. Helen Marshall was the first African American Queens Borough President and served on both the New York State Assembly and New York City Council. Borough President Marshall had a strong connection to East Elmhurst Playground as she lived nearby, and personally worked in and supported the playground’s various family and community events often.
Stapleton Playground is now Rev. Dr. Maggie Howard Playground. Rev. Howard was a beloved Stapleton community activist and Senior Pastor of Stapleton UME; the oldest African American church in Staten Island.
Fairview Park’s wooded area is now Sandy Ground Woods. Sandy Ground is the oldest continuously inhabited free black settlement in the United States. Several of the community’s historic structures are still extant, including five that have been designated as New York City landmarks. These landmarks include a church, a cemetery, and three homes. There are some residents who still live in the original community.
As a part of the namings, the agency will install specially designed consolidated signs in the colors of the Pan-African flag by December 31, 2020 at the renamed parks and playgrounds.
Parks announced this first tranche of namings in June 2020 when the agency created Juneteenth Grove at Cadman Plaza Park. In 2021, among others, Parks intends to rename Bronx’ Mullaly Park in response to community requests.
NYC Parks remains commitment to addressing related issues of concern within the Agency. Parks has been hosting listening sessions with its 6,000+ workforce, of which approximately 34% are Black. The sessions are primarily to provide employees with a safe space to share the emotional challenges they are having in light of the recent deaths across the country and the response around the world. As the circumstances and understanding evolve, so will Parks’ support and efforts.