The African American legacy at Seattle Parks and Recreation is a lasting one.
- From the mid-1960s until 1987, Seattle Parks had the services of Willis Lee Ball, who went to work for the Seattle Parks Department when he was just 35 years old. He started as the parks recreation manager and several years later was promoted to a district management position. Willis was the first African American graduate of Western Washington University in Bellingham, where he starred on the football team. He was also part of the Federal Anti-poverty Model Cities Program in the 1960s and a tireless volunteer in nonprofit organizations. The Willis Ball Memorial Scholarship in Health Education at Western Washington University is named in his honor.
- In 1977, Walter R. Hundley became the first African American in the country to head a large municipal parks and recreation department. A graduate of Yale University, Superintendent Hundley came to Seattle to become a minister. Fortunately for Seattle Parks, he decided on a career in public service. He served as Park Superintendent until 1988. After retirement, he served on the Board of Park Commissioners.
Numerous Seattle parks and facilities are named for the following prominent African American men and women:
Alvin Larkins Park provides a place of respite for the neighbors and merchants in the nearby Madrona business area. Al Larkins was a brilliant musician and teacher who devoted time and energy to the Madrona community, where he lived from 1949 until his death in 1977. A U.S. Navy man, Larkins was stationed at Sand Point Naval Air Station in 1943 when he became a member of the band the Jive Bombers. He spent the rest of his career as a renowned music teacher and member of the Rainy City Jazz Band.
Dr. Blanche Lavizzo Park is a narrow park that connects S Jackson St. and E Yesler Way. Its many oak, poplar, and other shade trees give the park a sense of seclusion even though there are houses and apartments on its east and west sides. The park also features a large grassy area with picnic tables and grills, a picnic shelter with fireplace, a long shelter house, a bricked open area with benches, and a small amphitheater used for free summertime concerts and plays. Dr. Lavizzo was the first African-American woman pediatrician in the state of Washington. She was the founding medical director of the Central Area’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, whose motto is “Quality Care with Dignity.”
Flo Ware Park, a vibrant play area for children, was named for Flo Ware, a community activist who was dedicated to social change in health care and education systems for the poor and elderly populations
Homer Harris Park in the heart of the Central Area features unique artwork, a “Unity Plaza” gathering place, picnic tables and lawn areas. Barbecue on the grill or bring a picnic lunch, and enjoy the views to Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains. Named for Dr. Harris, a University of Iowa graduate who wanted to play professional football. Because the National Football League was banning black players at the time of his graduation, Homer decided to pursue medical school and went on to become a prominent dermatologist in his hometown of Seattle. The park is on a tract of land once owned by William Grose, a black pioneer, who bought the tract from Henry Yesler in 1882 for $1,000 in gold.
Judge Charles M. Stokes Overlook, a beautiful green space and picnic area in the I-90 lid, honors Charles Moorehouse Stokes. Stokes was elected to the Washington legislature in 1950 and served as the first black legislator from King County. He was appointed judge in 1968 and was the first black person on the King County District Court.
Powell Barnett Park was clearly built with serious play in mind. With a children’s play area, complex climbing structures, a wading pool in the summer, basketball hoops,and a broad field ideal for frisbee – there’s something in the park for kids of all ages. There are benches and picnic table throughout the park, and ADA accessible restrooms in a wild castle-shaped build next to the play area.
Pratt Park, a neighborhood playground in central Seattle, memorializes Edwin T. Pratt, the founder of the Central Area Motivation Program and the Seattle Opportunities Industrialization Center. Edwin Pratt was a civil rights leader and Seattle Urban League Executive Director. He was killed by a shotgun blast at his Shoreline home in 1969. The crime has never been solved.
Prentis I. Frazier Park is a neighborhood park ideal for resting in the shade and playing. The park includes a small play area with adjacent benches and a drinking fountain. Frazier was a former slave who came to Seattle in 1916. In the 1920s he started and published a newspaper for the black community, the Seattle Enterprise, which later became the Northwest Enterprise. He is remembered as a generous philanthropist and business entrepreneur.
Sam Smith Park honors Seattle’s first African American City Councilmember. The park comprises the largest and most central part of the I-90 lid, with a play area for children, picnic tables, and tennis courts. The park includes Blue Dog Pond, a detention pond that serves as one of Seattle’s off-leash areas for dogs, and Urban Peace Circle, a sculpture by Seattle sculptor Gerard Tsutakawa, dedicated to children killed by gun violence in Seattle’s inner city.
Walt Hundley Playfield, a community area that includes soccer fields, tennis courts and baseball fields, was named for Walter R. Hundley, the first African American superintendent for Seattle Parks and one of the first African Americans to head a major parks and recreation department in the United States. Hundley held his position from 1977 to 1988 and was instrumental to acquiring the High Point playfield that was later named after him.
William Grose Park offers a rolling green lawn and giant evergreen that are the highlights of this park. Also includes two benches and one picnic table in a nice, quiet neighborhood. Grose was a pioneer who arrived in Seattle in 1860 after serving in the U.S. Navy. By the 1880s he was Seattle’s wealthiest Black resident.
You can find these parks using this Google map of Seattle parks named for African Americans. Most are in the Central District, except Walt Hundley Playfield is in West Seattle.