In honor of Black History Month, we’d like to talk about Frederick Douglass – the inspiring namesake of Douglass Park, Douglass Community Center, Douglass Annex, Douglass Branch Library, and a public art piece in Douglass Park.
Frederick Douglass (1818-95) was a prominent American abolitionist, author and orator. Born a slave, Douglass escaped at age 20 and went on to become a world-renowned anti-slavery activist. His three autobiographies are considered important works of the slave narrative tradition as well as classics of American autobiography. Douglass’ work as a reformer ranged from his abolitionist activities in the early 1840s to his attacks on Jim Crow and lynching in the 1890s. For 16 years, he edited an influential black newspaper and achieved international fame as an inspiring and persuasive speaker and writer. In thousands of speeches and editorials, he levied a powerful indictment against slavery and racism, provided an indomitable voice of hope for his people, embraced antislavery politics, and preached his own brand of American ideals. (taken from history.com/topics/black-history/frederick-douglass)
Since the 1930s, the park space has served the African American community of Champaign. Black servicemen visiting Champaign from the Chanute Air Force base in Rantoul, IL experienced segregation and were not allowed to participate in area USO (United States Service Organization) activities. The community center provided a place for social functions for these servicemen including movie nights, dances, ball games, boxing, card game nights, picnics, and much more.
More information on Douglass Park history: http://eblackcu.net/portal/archive/files/douglasscenter_863daa35bc.pdf
The community continued to invest in the area by building a new community center and obtaining additional space for meetings and programming. In 2015, a $1.1 million upgrade by the Champaign Park District gave the park new features such as a splash pad, new playground, and pavilion space.
Douglass Park and the multi-use buildings surrounding it continue to serve the Champaign community. Programming like Midnight Basketball, Day Camps, Senior Programs, and Youth Sports enrich the lives of many. Free community events in the park like Champaign-Urbana Days, Juneteenth Celebration, and park concerts also bring fun and unity to residents in the area. Take a moment to visit soon: https://champaignparks.com/park/douglass-park/