Park View Playground Played Interesting Role in Desegregation of District Playgrounds

As I may have already mentioned, I’ve started to do research on District playgrounds with a particular interest in field houses. However, in order to understand their broader context, I’m also having to piece together histories of particular playgrounds. I found the history of Park View playground to be interesting, particularly the role it played in the struggle to desegregate District playgrounds.

The field house at the Park View playground as it neared completion on September 8, 1932

The field house at the Park View playground as it neared completion on September 8, 1932

Need for a community playground was identified as early as 1915 by the Park View Citizens Association, which urged Congress to provide $22,000 for the purchase of a specified tract to adjoin the Park View School property then under construction. Need for establishment of a playground grew in 1919, at which time the playground space located on the grounds of the Park View School was attracting an average daily attendance of 1,100 children.  Residents advocated for the purchase of the vacant lot north of the school house as the site of the future playground and made plans to purchase the lot and create a playground as a permanent part of the municipal system in 1919.

Congress approved $32,000 for purchase of the lot in 1921. This added the acre and one-half of land north of the school to the acre playground of the Park View School. Early plans for the playground indicate the existence of a baseball diamond, basketball courts, and an open play area. By 1932, programming of the site expanded to include a new one and one-half story colonial style field house, a wading pool, and a tennis court. The 1932 improvements were accomplished using unemployed labor paid for out of the District’s unemployment fund.

The Park View community was among the earliest neighborhoods in the District to integrate. Black families began to move into the neighborhood as early as the 1930s and by 1946 it was a notably mixed neighborhood. This was at odds with the segregated public school and playground systems then enforced in the District.

As early as 1947 the issue of Park View playground’s segregated nature was challenged. The Southern Conference for Human Welfare requested that Park View playground support “mixed” activities to reflect the composition of the neighborhood. The District of Columbia Recreation Department denied the request but agreed to study six playgrounds where the population composition was changing – Rose Park, Rosedale, Park View, Hoover, New York Avenue, and Happy Hollow.

In response to continued pressure from the community, the Recreation Department chose to split the use of Park View playground in the 1948/1949 school year rather than integrate. During the school hours of Park View Elementary, the playground was reserved for white children. After 3:30 p.m., the playground was reserved for black children. This decision was opposed by the committee on the Park View Playground of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, which asked the recreation board that the playground be made available to “all children without regard to race or color.” Upholding their position, the Recreation Board voted in 1948 to recommend that the Park View Playground “be designated as a Negro unit,” however, “so long as the adjacent school remain[ed] white, the playground be used by white children during school hours.”

The Recreation Department staunchly attempted to enforce its segregation policy during this period, often at the expense of area children. Due to their inability to maintain a segregated Park View Playground in the summer of 1948, they chose to keep the wading pool at the playground dry and closed. The pool, one of the much sought-after wading pools in the city, remained dry until after the transfer of the playground from white to black children.

Despite the demand that Park View Playground be operated on an integrated basis, the District Recreation Board decided in May 1949 to “experiment” with nonsegregated playgrounds at two locations – Rose Park in Georgetown and Garfield Park in southeast. The Recreation Board’s decision to open Rose Park and Garfield had little risk. Rose Park was a segregated black playground in a neighborhood with a growing white population. Enforcement of segregation at Rose Park was lax. Garfield Park, similarly, was a large playground formerly split with play areas for white children to the east and black children to the west.

Even after Park View Playground was transferred for use by black children following the lead of Park View School in the fall of 1949, the debate of opening Park View as a mixed playground continued. Despite continued community requests for opening Park View in 1950, the Recreation Board continued to take no action.

Following its 1948 experiment, the Recreation Board did adopt a conservative and non-controversial approach to playground desegregation. In 1951, they chose to “open” only those playgrounds whose naming evoked little or no opposition from white citizens. In other words, the playgrounds designated as “open” already served large or completely black neighborhoods. This policy resulted in the opening of Noyes and two other playgrounds – formerly white – for black children in 1951.

Pressure to end segregation at Park View Playground continued and ultimately prevailed. On May 7, 1952, Park View Playground, along with Trinidad, Sherwood, and Kenilworth, were approved by the District Recreation Board for use by all races. Of these four, only Park View was a black playground desegregating. This brought the total of open District playgrounds to eight with more than 70 remaining segregated.

Segregation at all District playgrounds ended on May 19, 1954.

Bibliography (chronological order)

“Urge a Larger Playground.” The Washington Post, Aug. 22, 1915: pg. 15

“Citizens Ask Six More Playgrounds.” Washington Times, July 19, 1919: Section 2 pg. 1.

“Playground for Park View.” The Washington Post, Sept. 1, 1919: pg. 12.

“Urges City Buy Playgrounds.” The Washington Herald, Oct. 11, 1919: pg. 3.

“More Playgrounds, Park View’s Plan.” The Washington Post, Nov. 23, 1920: pg. 9.

“Additional Playground Space is Provided.” Washington Times, Oct. 25, 1921: pg. 1.

“Modern Playground in Park View.” The Washington Post, Sept. 8, 1932: pg. 5.

“Right to Discuss Racism Is Upheld.” Atlanta Daily World, Oct. 26, 1947: Pg. 2.

“Groups to Discuss Park Change From White to Negro Use.” The Washington Post, July 4, 1948: pg. R4.

“Park View Playground Plan Scored.” The Washington Post, July 8, 1948: pg. B1.

“Wading Pool Goes Dry.” The Washington Post, July 20, 1948: pg. B2.

“Park View Playground Due To Be Changed to Negro Use.” The Washington Post, July 30, 1948: pg. 14.

“D.C. Prejudice Closes Swim Pool As Mercury Soars.” Chicago Defender, July 31, 1948: pg. 3.

Roberts, Chalmers M. “Recreation Board Terminates Segregation at 2 Playgrounds.” The Washington Post, May 11, 1949: pg. 1.

Roberts, Chalmers M. “Playground Segregation.” The Washington Post, June 12, 1949: pg. B8.

“Park View Debated as Mixed Playground.” Baltimore Afro-American, Mar. 25, 1950: pg. 6.

“Nonsegregated Playgrounds.” The Washington Post, July 17, 1951: pg. 10.

“Nonsegregated Playground Public Hearing Scheduled.” The Washington Post, Apr. 26, 1952: pg. B1.

“Four ‘Open’ Playgrounds Are Approved.” The Washington Post, May 8, 1952: pg. B1.

“DC Kids May Lose Bias Playgrounds.” New York Amsterdam News, May 17, 1952: pg. 31.

“Mrs. Hunter Hits Policy of Recreation Bd.” Baltimore Afro-American, May 24, 1952: pg. 18.

“Playground Use Pattern Unchanged.” The Washington Post, May 20, 1954: pg. 10.


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8 Comments on “Park View Playground Played Interesting Role in Desegregation of District Playgrounds”

  1. Kim Roberts Says:

    Fascinating…and thoroughly researched! (Thanks for including the bibliography as well.)

  2. IMGoph Says:

    Kent: To be clear – does that mean that Trinidad was a white-only playground prior to May 1952?

  3. […] A Park View playground’s key role in desegregating D.C. (Park View D.C.) […]

  4. […] The Park View Playground improvements were finally completed in September 1932. […]

  5. […] played in ending segregated playgrounds in the District of Columbia.  I’ve previously posted a brief history of the playground for those wanting to read more. The property has also been nominated for inclusion in the African […]

  6. abbie cloutier Says:

    Just wondering, Are the cites listed on this website in MLA format? It is a very good.

  7. […] restoration of the old field house at Park View Recreation Center is coming along nicely. Among the many changes people will notice is that the porch is being opened […]

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