Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940) was an advocate for economic independence within the black community and also became a proponent of black nationalism. He was born in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica on August 17, 1887 and immigrated to Harlem in 1916, where in 1918 Garvey established the headquarters of his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). At the UNIA’s first convention, held at Madison Square Garden in 1920, Garvey declared his plans to build an independent nation for black Americans in West Africa. The group promoted black economic self-sufficiency, publishing the Negro World newspaper and establishing black-owned businesses. Garvey founded his own shipping line, the Black Star Shipping Line, to finance these projects. Garvey’s plans foundered after his conviction for mail fraud in 1923 following the failure of his shipping line and increasing government scrutiny. After Garvey served two years in prison, President Calvin Coolidge commuted his sentence, and in 1927 he was deported to Jamaica.
The social and political history of this site reaches back into the early colonial period. Dutch settlers referred to the park as “Slangberg,” or Snake Hill, because of its reptile population. British fortifications on the site guarded the Harlem River during the Revolutionary War. The Common Council considered razing the hilly area in 1835 to accommodate new streets but local citizens successfully petitioned to preserve it as a public park. It opened as Mount Morris Park in 1840.
Although the park’s natural features have been preserved, a number of architectural elements have been added over time. A fire watchtower was designed by Julius Kroehl and erected in 1856 at a time when fire was capable of destroying a city largely constructed of wood. The 47-foot cast-iron tower is unique in the United States, and was designated a landmark in 1967. A reconstruction of Mount Morris Park in the 1930’s added a community center and a child health station. Current facilities include the Pelham Fritz Recreation Center, named for a reknowned Parks employee, an amphitheater and a swimming pool. Capital projects completed in 2002, 2004 and 2005 have improved the pool entrance, added new safety surfaces and landscaped the park. The Marcus Garvey Park Alliance community group organizes a variety of cultural events in addition to supporting capital projects. Mount Morris Park was renamed for Marcus Garvey in 1973.
- New York
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