Photos credit: NYC Parks
NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP, joined on June 16, 2021, New York State Senator Jose M. Serrano, New York State Assembly Member Amanda Septimo, New York City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, and former City Council Member and daughter of the late Reverend T. Wendell Foster, Helen Diane Foster, to officially celebrate the re/naming of 16 park spaces named in honor of the Black experience in New York City, memorializing that which is locally, nationally and historically relevant.
The newly-named spaces represent educators, Civil Rights leaders, pioneers in the LGBTQ+ community, novelists, playwrights, abolitionists and more. Honoring a commitment made in November to rename Mullaly Park and Recreation Center in the Bronx, the event was held at the park to showcase its planned new name for Rev. Foster. The site will officially be renamed in September 2022 in accordance with Parks policy of naming three years posthumous.
Last June, the agency pledged to continue to demonstrate how it stands in solidarity with the Black community in its fight to combat systemic racism. Since then, Parks has named 28 parks spaces in honor of the Black experience to help acknowledge the legacies of these Black Americans; encourage discourse about their contributions, and work to make the park system more diverse and reflective of the people it serves.
The newly-named park spaces feature some of the most recognizable names in African American history, including Malcolm X and Lorraine Hansberry; local community leaders like Rev. Foster, who was the first Black City Council Member to represent the Bronx, and the musicians who represent the historic Addisleigh neighborhood in Queens. All of these influential people and places add richness to these parks and the surrounding communities.
A complete list of parks/facilities and background are as follows:
54th Street Recreation Center now Constance Baker Motley Recreation Center
Located in the heart of midtown, the 54th Street Recreation Center has been a community staple for years. Now, its name has been formally changed in honor of Constance Baker Motley. Motley, born in 1921, 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.
Riverside Park at 150th Street now Ralph Ellison Plaza
A long-time resident of West Harlem, Ralph Ellison was a leading novelist, literary critic and scholar best known for his novel Invisible Man. The newly-named plaza was already home to a granite block bearing Ellison’s name in honor of his legacy.
Harlem Lane Playground now Percy E. Sutton Playground
Percy Sutton was an activist and lawyer during the Civil Rights movement; among his clients he represented 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.
Hell’s Kitchen Park now Lorraine Hansberry Park
Lorraine Hansberry was a playwright and writer who authored “A Raisin in the Sun” and was the first African American female to have a play performed on Broadway. The newly-renamed park first opened in 1979 after the community advocated for more recreational space.
Prospect Park Bandshell now Lena Horne Bandshell
With a strong endorsement from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the historic concert venue has been renamed in honor of Lena Horne. Horne was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and was a trailblazing dancer, actress and singer in theater, film and television. She was also active on issues of social justice and civil rights.
Underhill Playground now James Forten Playground
James Forten was a prominent abolitionist and vice president of the Anti-Slavery Society. During the Revolutionary War, he was temporarily imprisoned at Brooklyn’s Wallabout Bay near what is today the Navy Yard.
Middleton Playground now Sarah J.S. Tompkins Garnet Playground
A leading educator and suffragist, Sarah J.S. Tompkins Garnet was the first Black female principal in the New York City public schools. The playground located in Williamsburg features handball courts, play equipment, and swings. The park also has basketball courts, which are slated for a full reconstruction and are currently in the design phase of the capital process.
Mullaly Park and Recreation Center will soon be Rev. T. Wendell Foster Park & Recreation Center
In response to community requests, Parks plans to formally rename Mullaly Park in honor of Rev. T. Wendell Foster in September 2022 — in accordance with Parks’ policy of naming three years posthumous. Rev. Foster was the pastor of the Christ Church in Morrisania. He was the first Black representative from the Bronx in the City Council, where he championed low-income housing and served as longtime chair of the Parks Committee.
St. Mary’s Amphitheater now Gil Scott-Heron Amphitheater
Gil Scott-Heron was a pioneering soul and jazz poet, musician, and author. 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 through the Anchor Parks Initiative, and the project is slated for completion in the coming fall.
West Bronx Recreation Center now Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) Recreation Center
Born Stokeley Carmichael, Kwame Ture, 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.
Morris Garden is now Mabel Hampton Garden
Mabel Hampton was a prominent lesbian activist and dancer during the Harlem Renaissance. She was also a philanthropist and lived with her long-time partner Lillian Foster for decades on 169th Street in the Bronx.
The Oval in St. Albans Park now Musician’s Oval
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 today a landmarked historic district.
Railroad Park now Gwen Ifill Park
Gwen Ifill 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. Gwen Ifill Park is currently undeveloped and there is $21 million in Capital funding to build out this greenspace.
Flushing Bay Promenade now Malcolm X Promenade
This scenic promenade located in Flushing Meadows Corona Park is now named in honor of leading Civil Rights activist, African American Muslim leader, and spokesman for the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X. At the time of his assassination, Malcolm X lived with his family in East Elmhurst, Queens.
Carlton Park now Harris Brothers Park
Located at Drumgoole Road West, the formerly named Carlton Park is now named in honor of brothers Moses and Sylas Harris. Moses and Sylas Harris were brothers and freed Black farmers who settled the community in southern Staten Island known as Harrisville or Sandy Ground. Last year, Parks renamed Fairview Park the Sandy Grounds Woods in honor of the free Black settlement where the Harris brothers lived.
Silver Lake Park will now feature Audre Lorde Walk
Audre Lorde was a Black lesbian feminist, activist and writer. She lived on Staten Island from 1972-1987, and at the time of her death she was the New York State poet laureate.
Parks announced its first tranche of namings in June 2020 when the agency created Juneteenth Grove at Cadman Plaza Park, in downtown Brooklyn. Since then, 28 green spaces have been renamed across all five boroughs, including the Ted Corbitt Loop in Central Park and Ella Fitzgerald Playground in Queens.
Parks is committed to re/name more sites, representing other underrepresented, protected classes, and announces its intent to rename Bennett Park in Manhattan, in response to community requests.
In the same vein as the first round of namings, the agency will install specially designed consolidated signs in the colors of the Pan-African flag–red, black and green–at the renamed parks and facilities. These signs will be installed by the end of August 2021.