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16 NYC Parks Renamed After Historical Black Leaders

The new NYC parks signs, designed with Pan-African colors, are unveiled on June 16, 2021.
The new NYC parks signs, designed with Pan-African colors, are unveiled on June 16, 2021. (Malcolm Pinckney/NYC Parks)

 

NEW YORK CITY — To honor the Black experience in New York City, 16 public parks will be renamed after legendary and prominent Black figures that have left their marks on the city’s history. These individuals were movers and shakers, healers and educators, LGTBQ+ pioneers and Civil Rights leaders in Black history.

Those honored include Malcolm X, Audre Lorde, Kwame Ture (also known as Stokely Carmichael), Ralph Ellison, Gwen Ifill, Rev. T. Wendell, Lorraine Hansberry and Percy E. Sutton.

“We are happy that the tireless work and commitment of our husband, father and grandfather, Rev. T. Wendell Foster, is being recognized and celebrated with the renaming of Mullaly Park after him,” said former City Council member and daughter of the late Reverend T. Wendell Foster, Helen Diane Foster.

“The Bronx and Highbridge was his home for over 55 years when he passed away at age 95 and he fought for this community up until his last days.”

The renaming is symbolic for memorializing “that which is locally, nationally and historically relevant” stated NYC Parks in a press release Wednesday. NYC Parks regularly name parks that have community and elected support.

“In the past year, we have named 28 park spaces in honor of the Black experience. It is our commitment to change in action,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, who selected the final names and locations.

“These greenspaces and park facilities are critical resources in the communities they serve and we want to ensure that they bear names that inspire pride, encourage meaningful discourse, and represent the people it serves.”

NYC Parks will install new signs in the red, black and green of the Pan-African flag at the renamed parks and facilities by the end of August.

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Below are the names and locations of the renamed parks:

Manhattan:

  • Constance Baker Motley Recreation Center (formerly 54th Street Recreation Center)

Constance Motley (1921-2005) was the first African American woman to become a federal judge. She was a leading jurist and legal advocate during the Civil Rights movement, and the first Black woman to serve as Manhattan Borough President. Baker was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

  • Ralph Ellison Plaza (formerly Riverside Park at 150th Street)

A long-time resident of West Harlem, Ralph Ellison (1914-1994) was a leading novelist, literary critic and scholar best known for his novel “Invisible Man.” Ellison also trained as a musician at Tuskegee Institute from 1933-36. The newly named plaza was already home to a granite block bearing Ellison’s name in honor of his legacy.

  • Percy E. Sutton Playground (formerly Harlem Lane Playground)

Percy Sutton (1920-2009) was an activist and lawyer during the Civil Rights movement; among his clients was Malcolm X. He was also a prominent Black politician and businessman who served as Manhattan Borough President for more than a decade from 1966-1977. Percy Sutton playground is located along the scenic Harlem River Drive.

  • Lorraine Hansberry Park (formerly Hell’s Kitchen Park )

Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) was a playwright and writer who authored “A Raisin in the Sun,” the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. The newly renamed park first opened in 1979 after the community advocated for more recreational space. Thespians may recall Hansberry’s iconic words: “…though it be thrilling and marvelous thing to be merely young and gifted in such times, it is doubly so, doubly dynamic, to be young, gifted and black!”

Brooklyn:

  • Lena Horne Bandshell (formerly Prospect Park Bandshell)

Lena Horne (1917-2010) was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and became one of the most popular African American performers of the 1940s and 1950s. In 1963, she participated in the march on Washington and performed at rallies throughout the country for the National Council for Negro Women. The historic concert venue has been renamed in honor of Lena Horne.

  • James Forten Playground (formerly Underhill Playground)

James Forten (1766-1842) was a prominent abolitionist, businessman and co-founder of the Anti-Slavery Society and American Moral Reform Society. At the age of fourteen, Forten volunteered for service in the Revolutionary War. During the war, he was temporarily imprisoned at Brooklyn’s Wallabout Bay near what is today the Navy Yard.

  • Sarah J.S. Tompkins Garnet Playground (formerly Middleton Playground)

Sarah J.S. Tompkins Garnet (1831-1911) was the first Black female principal in the New York City public schools. She was also a businesswoman, who owned a seamstress shop in Brooklyn from 1883 to 1911 and a suffragist, who founded the Equal Suffrage League in 1902 for Black women in Brooklyn. Sarah J.S. Tompkins Garnet Playground’s basketball courts are scheduled for a full reconstruction.

Bronx:

  • Rev. T. Wendell Foster Park & Recreation Center (formerly Mullaly Park and Recreation Center)

Rev. Foster (1924-2019) was the pastor of the Christ Church in Morrisania. Elected in 1977, Foster was the first Black representative from the Bronx in the City Council, where he championed low-income housing and served as long-time chair of the Parks Committee. He was active in the Civil Rights movement, marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.

  • Gil Scott-Heron Amphitheater (formerly St. Mary’s Amphitheater)

Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011) was a pioneering soul and jazz poet, musician and author. Scott-Heron is revered for his visionary song, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” As a young man he attended DeWitt Clinton High School and the Fieldston School in the Bronx. Currently, the renamed amphitheater along with the plaza, pathways and lighting in this area of St. Mary’s Park is being renovated and should be finished this fall.

  • Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) Recreation Center (formerly West Bronx Recreation Center)

Born Stokeley Carmichael, Kwame Ture (1941-1998), graduated from the Bronx High School of Science, and was a prominent activist and organizer during the Civil Rights era and leader in the Black Power movement during the 1960s. He organized with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was a former prime minister of the Black Panther Party founded in Oakland, California.

  • Mabel Hampton Garden (formerly Morris Garden)

Mabel Hampton (1902-1989) was a prominent lesbian activist and dancer during the Harlem Renaissance. Hampton danced at clubs like “The Garden of Joy”, sang as a member of the Lafayette Theater Chorus and performed with stars such as Gladys Bentley. She was also a philanthropist and lived with her long-time partner Lillian Foster for decades on 169th Street in the Bronx. Mabel was named the grand marshal of the New York City Gay Pride March in 1985. That same year, Mabel was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays.

Queens:

  • Musician’s Oval (formerly The Oval in St. Albans Park)

The oval is named in honor of the numerous notable African Americans and Black luminaries in the jazz world including Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Lena Horne. They, among other prominent Black figures, like baseball legends Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson, settled in the Addisleigh neighborhood, an enclave in the St. Albans area of western Queens that is a landmarked historic district.

  • Gwen Ifill Park (formerly Railroad Park)

Gwen Ifill (1999-2016) was born in Jamaica, Queens, and was a leading journalist, television broadcaster, and author. She was the first African American woman to anchor a nationally televised U.S. public affairs program, Washington Week in Review. Later, she co-anchored PBS NewsHour. Ifill reported on a wide range of issues from foreign affairs to U.S. politics. She covered seven presidential campaigns and moderated two vice presidential debates

  • Malcolm X Promenade (formerly Flushing Bay Promenade)

Malcolm X (1925-1965), born Malcolm Little, was an influential civil rights activist, African American Muslim leader and minister and spokesman for the Nation of Islam. He promoted Black liberation through self-determination. At the time of his assassination, Malcolm X lived with his family in East Elmhurst, Queens. Malcolm X Promenade is located in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Staten Island:

  • Audre Lorde Walk (formerly Silver Lake Park)

Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a writer, poet and a self-described Black lesbian mother warrior. Some of her most notable works include “Sister Outsider,” “The Cancer Journals,” “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name” and “”Poetry Is Not a Luxury.” Born in New York City, she lived on Staten Island from 1972-1987, and at the time of her death she was the New York State poet laureate.

  • Harris Brothers Park (formerly Carlton Park)

Located at Drumgoole Road West, the formerly named Carlton Park is now named in honor of brothers Moses and Silas Harris. Moses and Silas Harris were brothers and freed Black farmers who settled the Sandy Ground community in southern Staten Island. Moses, hailing from Manhattan, purchased his first property there in 1850. Last year, Parks renamed Fairview Park the “Sandy Grounds Woods” in honor of the free Black settlement where the Harris brothers lived.

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