BLACK HISTORY MONTH
African Americans and
Seattle Parks and Recreation
General Parks Information: (206) 684-4075 | Contact
February is Black History Month, and a great time to recognize the
many contributions African Americans have made to the history and development
of the city and Seattle Parks and Recreation.
Park, at 2401 E. Howell St., is named after one of Seattle’s
most respected athletes and physicians, Dr. Homer E. Harris. Harris
starred for Garfield High School’s football and track teams in the early
1930s and went on to earn All-American honors as a football player at
the University of Iowa. Because the National Football League barred
African American players, Harris chose to attend medical school in Nashville, Tennessee, and when he returned to Seattle, he quickly became one
of the city’s most prominent and beloved dermatologists.
Seattle Parks and Recreation bought the land for a Central Area park
named after Dr. Harris with an unprecedented gift of $1.3 million from
an anonymous donor. In partnership with the Seattle Parks Foundation,
Parks is developed the site into a neighborhood park with paths, greenery
and a children’s play area.
Also in Southeast Seattle, John
C. Little Park. Located at 37th Ave S, between
S. Holly St. and S. Myrtle St., the park is named after
the late Park Board member and champion of youth, John C. Little. Through
a long career and a lifetime of community service, John created and
developed opportunities for young people through the formation of the
Central Area Youth Association, the 4-H program and other programs.
An annual award in John C. Little's honor, The
John C. Little 'Spirit' Award, recognizes the Seattle Parks
and Recreation employee who exemplifies John's service to youth and
The celebration of Black History Month would not be complete without
mention of the Langston Hughes
Performing Arts Center and its namesake, famed African American
writer Langston Hughes. Mr. Hughes was a brilliant poet, novelist, playwright,
and essayist during the Harlem Renaissance in New York City.
The African American legacy at Seattle Parks and Recreation is a lasting
one. The former leader of the department, Superintendent Walter R.
Hundley, was a longtime City employee who in 1977 became the first
African American to head a large parks and recreation department in
the country. Prior to his superintendent role, Walt directed the City’s
Office of Management and Budget. A graduate of Yale University, Walt
came to Seattle to become a minister, but fortunately for us, he decided
on a career in public service. He served as Superintendent until 1988.
After retirement, he also served on our Board of Park Commissioners.
The Department was also lucky to have the services of Willis L.
Ball, a recreation manager from the mid-1960s until 1987. Willis
was the first African American graduate of Western Washington University
in Bellingham, where he starred on the football team. In his honor,
the Department established a scholarship and softball tournament, which
continues to this day. Many other staff members have distinguished themselves
in Parks department management and recreation work and have become leaders
in the local African American community.
In addition to staff contributions, numerous Seattle parks are named
after prominent African Americans. Most of these parks are located in
Seattle’s Central Area. Among them are:
Al Larkins Park: after the Seattle teacher and jazz musician
Dr. Blanche Lavizzo
Park and Water Play Area: after a noted local physician and
first medical director of Odessa Brown Clinic
Edwin T. Pratt Park:
after the slain Seattle civil rights leader and executive director of
the Seattle Urban League
Flo Ware Park: after
the Central Area activist dedicated to social change in the education,
health care, care for the elderly and jobs for the poor
Judge Charles M.
Stokes Overlook: in honor of the late judge who was the first
African American elected to the State Legislature from King County and
the first African American elected to Seattle District Court
Langston Hughes Performing Arts
Center: after one of the greatest American poets of the 20th
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park: named after the internationally renowned civil rights leader
Medgar Evers Swimming Pool:
after the renowned Mississippi-based civil rights leader
Powell Barnett Park: after the pioneering black coal miner and community leader who
first came to Seattle in 1906
Prentis I. Frazier Park:
after the successful businessman and community newspaper publisher who
helped develop African American businesses in Seattle
Sam Smith Park:
after the long-time state representative and first black person elected
to the Seattle City Council
Walt Hundley Playfield: after former Superintendant of Seattle Parks and Recreation the first African American to head a large parks and recreation department in the country
William Grose Park : after the black pioneer hotelier and restaurateur
who arrived in Seattle soon after Seattle founders landed at Alki
February 8, 2011