INDIANAPOLIS- All week long, Martindale-Brightwood residents and Indy Parks are celebrating a big milestone: Frederick Douglass Park turns 100-years-old on Wednesday.
“A hundred years ago, this was one of the very few parks that not only welcomed but also celebrated Black residents and their families here in this community,” said Ronnetta Spalding, an Indy Parks spokeswoman. “This was the place that they could come to where they felt safe, where they felt welcome, where they felt that there would be programs and activities that were designed specifically for them.”
That’s because in 1921, Indianapolis public parks were segregated and did not allow Black Hoosiers to utilize them, aside from Frederick Douglass Park. Today, the parks are open to all Hoosiers.
Locals are celebrating the 100th anniversary with days of activities, and that includes food pantries, fitness classes, and more.
The hope is to also commemorate the pivotal, and historic role the recreational space played in the Circle City.
“I think that you’ll find that often parks are those one spaces that don’t really cost anything for people to go to, that they’re centered perfectly inside of the communities and we know that with Frederick Douglass Park–that it sits here, right along 25th Street in this neighborhood, this Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood and it’s welcomed so many individuals and it continues to do so,” Spalding said.
The week-long activities will also lead up to Saturday’s CircleUp Indy Peace Festival.
It seems fitting for Carmen Helms, a co-chair of the Friends of Douglass. She and her organization have spent decades hoping to bring the park back to life and to its original roots as a place of peace and unity.
“It was a safe haven, and it was community, it was family here,” the 68-year-old described. “You felt the love, and you still feel the love here, so it was just a wonderful place to come.”
Prior to the pandemic, Helms and her co-chair, Frankie Casel-Baker spoke to FOX59’s Beairshelle Edmé about the role this staple played in the lives of so many Black Hoosiers, as the park once stood as the only public recreation area, they could go to within the city limits.
Then, the duo asked for continued support from the city, and its neighbors, and nearly a year later their calls for help have been answered.
Indy Parks plans to bring even more resources to Frederick Douglass Park, including an expanded family center, more outdoor areas, day camps, and meal services. Through Mayor Joe Hogsett’s initiative, Circle City Forward, the park will receive a nearly $20 million makeover. It’s part of a $190 million public investment project to revitalize the city after COVID-19.
Helms told FOX59, “It was a long way coming, but— it finally made it and I’m so glad, so glad. I got to put my hand into some of these things with the rest of the Friends of Douglass. We had to do this, and I got access to what they needed and wanted because I listened to what Candice (Graves), who’s running the center now, said so you know yeah it’s a lot.”
To attend any of the public events this week, you can visit here for a list of scheduled activities.