Place Category: Parks and Playgrounds
This property is named in honor of civil rights leader Roy Wilkins (1901-1981). Born in Missouri and raised in Minnesota, Wilkins grew up with an interest in journalism and civil rights. After receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota, Wilkins worked for The Kansas City Call, a weekly paper dedicated to African-American issues. In 1931, he began his career with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Wilkins rose to the position of NAACP President and was its guiding force from 1955 to 1977. As president, he worked tirelessly to promote voter rights legislation, fair housing laws, and equity in wages. During his tenure he received the Spingard Medal, the highest award given by the NAACP. From 1934 through 1949, Wilkins also served as editor of The Crisis, a magazine founded by W.E.B. Dubois. Upon Wilkins’s death in 1981, President Ronald Reagan called for American flags to be flown at half-mast.
Roy Wilkins Park is bounded by 115th Avenue and Merrick and Baisley Boulevards. The Department of Defense built the St. Albans Naval Hospital on this property in the 1940s. When the hospital closed in 1974, the government gave the 100-acre plot to the Veterans Administration, which in turn gave half the land – the park’s current 53 acres – to the City of New York in 1977. At the request of Council Member Archie Spigner, the City Council named this property Roy Wilkins Park on June 29, 1982. That year, the city allocated $3.3 million to begin development of the park. Four years later, at a cost of $5.3 million, the city transformed the 50,000 square-foot hospital building into the Roy Wilkins Family Center. Officially opened on August 7, 1986, the center includes an Olympic-size pool equipped to accommodate the disabled. The facility also hosts a summer day camp for 300 children, after-school programs, a counseling center, and a variety of community events. The park includes comfort stations, a tot play area, picnic tables, tennis, basketball, and handball courts, baseball fields, and a jogging path.
Adjacent to the Roy Wilkins Family Center is a 425-seat theater that includes a piano lounge and a film studio. Soon after opening, the theater, built in what was a naval officers’ club and ballroom, became home to the Black Spectrum Theatre Company. The troupe, founded in 1970 by Carl Clay, often put on plays aimed at community and race issues, such as “Unemployment” and “Black 2001.” The park also contains an African-American Hall of Fame, located in the African Courtyard outside the center. Medallions weighing 400 pounds each are inscribed with the inductees’ achievements. Honorees include Ralph Bunche, a past United Nations under-secretary, Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and the park’s namesake.
One of the park’s most innovative features is a four-acre vegetable garden. Each season, crops with a market value of approximately $100,000 are grown by neighborhood families. The produce is kept by the families or donated to charity. In 1989, the community established a separate senior citizens’ garden for the same purpose.
- Roy Wilkins Recreation center
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