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Park renamed after Estella Diggs opens

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A park that honors the first African-American assemblywoman from the borough opened amid fanfare, with the namesake of the park in attendance.

The re-naming of the park at East 167th Street between Third and Fulton avenues, formerly known as Rocks and Roots Park, in honor of Estella Diggs, 95, capped off $2.6 million in renovations. A ceremony included musical performances from children at the Harriet Tubman Charter School, a ribbon cutting, and sign unveiling on Monday, November 7.

Joining Diggs were family, friends, Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Community Board 3 district manager John Dudley, and 79th Assembly District Leader Cynthia Cox, among others.

“Thanks to $2.6 million in funding from Mayor Bloomberg and Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster, Estella Diggs Park has been transformed from a vacant lot into a verdant oasis,” Benepe said. “This new park is a fitting tribute to Estella Digg’s lifelong dedication to the Morrisania community, with walking paths that meander through landscaped gardens and sitting areas, native plantings, and abundant shade trees.”

Foster contributed the lion’s share of the money for the improvements, with $2.5 million coming from capital monies she allocated, and an additional $100,000 from the mayor’s office. Without Diggs, who was elected to the Assembly in 1972 and served from 1973 to 1981, Foster said it would have been impossible for her to be in office, The trailblazer paved the way for her to become the first black councilwoman from the borough in 2001, Foster said.

Foster also pledged an additional $2.5 million to build a new playground at Estella Diggs Park, along with more funding, including $500,000, that was allocated from Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

Diggs spoke briefly, thanking the crowd. One of her sons, Lawrence Diggs, said that his mother was truly humbled by having the park renamed after her.

“This is truly a humbling experience for all of us, but this park is not just named after her,” Lawrence Diggs said. “It belongs to the community that she worked over the decades.”

Diggs is a modest person, but the park is a deserving honor, Lawrence Diggs stated.

Diggs first moved to the borough in 1931, before getting married and purchasing the house on Franklin Avenue in 1941, where she was to live for most of her life, her son said.

Diggs was one of the co-authors of the legislation that created the WIC program, aided victims of burn-outs in the fires that ravaged the area in the 1970s, and was an early civil rights advocate, helping bus 300 people from her community to the march on Washington in 1963, Lawrence Diggs stated.

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