This timeline is a work in progress, interviews with community stakeholders and extensive research is being undertaken by volunteers. Marcus Garvey Memorial Park has a history of culturally significant events and community led advocacy that deserves exploring. Everyone is encouraged to share their memories and photos with us, contact Marcus Garvey Park Alliance President, Connie Lee
The park was opened December 1st, 1840 as Mt. Morris Park by the 64th Mayor of New York City, Robert H. Morris.
In the early 70’s “Community Thing” and other advocacy groups suggested renaming the park for Marcus Garvey, a publisher, journalist, entrepreneur and founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. City Council voted to rename the park in 1973. Frederick Samuel was the District 09 Council Member at the time.
November 22, 1935, Mt. Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Memorial Park) Fire Watchtower Alarm Bell, View North. NYC Parks Photo Archives
Photos taken on the East side of the park in 1936 show Madison Avenue, with brownstones and a church. Only the white building north of the park is still standing. NYC Parks Photo Archives
August 03, 1936, Mt. Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Memorial Park) View from Northwest corner. NYC Parks Photo Archives
Left Photo: March 03, 1937 Playground at 120th Street and Madison Avenue, the WPA period construction of what is now known as the Acropolis is visible in the background. Right Photo: November 23, 1937 Air view, McLaughlin Air Service, Mt. Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park) NYC Parks Photo Archives.
Photos taken in 1939 show the homes along Mt. Morris Park West, AKA Fifth Avenue in the background, although at the time the street may have had a different name. Clockwise from top right, the small building at the center served as a recreation center for children and young people, Mt. Morris Ascension Presbyterian church is in the background at West 122nd Street. Bottom right, the stone walls and steps of the lowest level terrace of what is now known as the Acropolis, the brownstones in the background were once known as the ruins and have been completely rebuilt. Left, looking Northwest the photo was likely taken from the top level terrace of the Acropolis. NYC Parks Photo Archives
March 29, 1963 Looking North up Fifth Avenue towards the Fire Watchtower. The photo was taken to show the proposed site for the Lincoln head monument which never materialized. NYC Parks Photo Archives.
July 23, 1966 Ruckers League Basketball Game. NYC Parks Photo Archives
March 16, 1967 Mayor John Lindsay and Parks Commissioner August Heckscher arrive by helicopter landing on the top terrace of the Acropolis for a ceremony announcing the Mt. Morris Park Amphitheater and Recreation Center. The amphitheater was completed in 1969.
1968 The Last Poets: the hip hop forefathers were formed in Marcus Garvey Park. Founding members Abiodun Oyewole, Jamal Mansur Nuriddin and Umar Bin Hasan. Photo Michael Ochs Archives
2018 The Last Poets today: Abiodun Oyewole, Umar Bin Hasan and Baba Donn Babatunde.
1968 Harlem Cultural Festival, NYC Parks Photo Archives. The festival evolved into a series of 6 Sunday afternoon concerts that became known as the Black Woodstock in 1969. Performers included The Fifth Dimension, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, The Staples Singers, Nina Simone, and B.B. King.
1969 Black Woodstock performers Mahalia Jackson and Sly Stone. Images Hal Tulchin/Joe Lauro
In the late 1960’s Hilda Stokely founded the Friends of Mt. Morris Park, giving a voice to community residents in the planning for the amphitheater and Pool House. Stokely served as female district leader for East Harlem’s 68th Assembly District.
Stokely and other community advocates met with Courtney Callender the first African American Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Affairs and Doris Freedman, the first Director of Cultural Affairs in New York City, to create a vision for the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater. Doris Freedman is best known for her advocacy for Public Art in New York City, I suspect she would approve of the work that the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance does today through the Public Art Initiative.
Stokely continued to advocate for the park throughout the 1970’s. Helen Bowman, Doris Hayward, Margret Beckford, Beraneece Sims, Dorothy Gordon are some of the names that came up in meeting minutes saved by Mrs. Stokely and still in the possession of her daughter Madlyn Stokely. Those meeting notes also mention the names of community organizations who were advocating for park improvements including , Community Thing, Mount Morris Park Organizing Committee, and Mount Morris Park Rehabilitation Committee.
July 14, 1971 Pool House Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, Hilda Stokely’s daughter Madlyn still has a piece of the ribbon.
Ms Stokely’s mid 20th century advocacy was a blue print for other advocates to follow. Photo courtesy Madlyn Stokely, Photographer unknown.