African Americans have achieved countless great feats in Philadelphia and beyond. As a result, many Philadelphia parks, recreation centers, and playgrounds are named to honor their lives.

Philadelphia Parks & Rec has 31 sites named in honor of African Americans. The honorees include:

  • A world-famous singer
  • Accomplished architects
  • Barrier-breaking politicians
  • Religious, cultural, and civic leaders
  • Fallen sports stars
  • Neighborhood activists

Here are three highlights from this illustrious group:

Billy Gambrel

William “Billy” Gambrel Playground

Billy Gambrel devoted 47 years of coaching and mentoring to at-risk youth in the Frankford section of Philadelphia. In 1967, “Mr. Bill” co-founded the Frankford Chargers. Starting as a few local kids playing football on a dirt field, the league grew to:

  • Eight football teams of over 300 young athletes.
  • Cheerleading squads.
  • A dance team.

Mr. Bill’s dedication to the young people gave thousands of kids the opportunity to play football and be a part of the community. In 2007, Whitehall Commons Playground was renamed “Billy Gambrel Recreation Center.”

Laura H. Sims

Laura Sims Skatehouse

In 1998, the former “Cobbs Creek Skate House” was renamed “Laura Sims Skate House” after the remarkable woman who brought an ice rink to West Philly. Sims persisted, petitioned, and campaigned for 12 years to build a rink. She began the quest in 1971. She wanted a place where her children could skate in West Philadelphia near where she lived.

Skating was popular, and there were rinks in other parts of the city, but none in West Philly. Sims organized other mothers to push for a new rink. The group kept the pressure on city officials despite repeated budget cuts. Finally, the rink was built and opened in February 1985.

Sims formed an advisory council for the skate house. The group managed the programs and activities of the rink. These included skating, hockey, sled hockey for people with disabilities, lessons, and more. Sims was proud of the children in her community. They skated together, formed friendships, and broke down stereotypes, regardless of racial differences.

Sims also helped form the “Friends of Cobb Creek Park,” a volunteer group which helps maintain the park. She was active in greening her block of Washington Avenue and in her church. Sims passed away in 1997.

Cecil B. Moore

Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center

Cecil B. Moore was a prominent figure in Philadelphia’s 1960s civil rights movement. He studied law at Temple University and was at the forefront of the integration movement in the ‘60s. His greatest achievements include:

  • Motivating African Americans to protest for the right to join labor unions.
  • Desegregating businesses.
  • Reinforcing the need for better public education.
  • Encouraging political participation among African Americans.

In 1963, Cecil B. Moore became the president of the local branch of the NAACP. He was instrumental in the end of legal segregation of Girard College. The former “Connie Mack Recreation Center” was renamed “Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center” in September 1980.


Visit Parks & Rec's February event blog to find Black History events and other activities near you.