Remembrances: Washington Square Park 1950s – It’s “Special Meaning for Me” (Guest Post)

Washington Square Park late 1950s

A Washington Square Park Experience

by Chris Kinder

Washington Square Park has a special meaning for me.

When I was a young teenager growing up in Connecticut, I had an opportunity to visit my older cousin, who was staying in an apartment within a block of the park while his father, my uncle, was teaching at NYU. This was in the 1950s. My cousin was helping me to learn to play chess, for which the park, with its famous stone chess-board tables surrounded by avid players and their audience, was an ideal inspiration.

However, it was another lesson which gave this place a special meaning for me. My cousin, who had been living in the South, pointed out the inter-racial couples among the people of all colors surrounding the great fountain in the center of the park. This, he said, was something you would never see in the South, or in most other places in the US at that time, for that matter. As a young product of an all-white neighborhood in one of New York’s exurbias, the significance of this was not lost on me.

There was one other influence in my life which was on a par with this lesson. As the civil rights movement was just surfacing on national tv, with beatings and hosings of demonstrators, I asked my father, who was a surgeon, what was this all about; what was it with black people, are they not “equal?” He said, “Well, people are all the same when you cut them open!” Soon, I was heading into Bridgeport–the city near my home–to support an NAACP demonstration.

I now live in California, but I travel to New York annually to see my kids and grand kids. This year I had the pleasure of visiting Washington Square Park twice, once to meet a friend, and once for the annual May Day workers’ holiday march. I always love to see it, and relive special memories.

Chris Kinder is a writer, organizer and activist who lives in Oakland, California.

Photos: Dave Heath

Editor’s note: If you have a remembrance of Washington Square Park you would like to share, please do!

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Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:

“Vintage” Photos of 1950s Washington Square Youth Showcased in New Book

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