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Pratt Community School to dedicate playground to first Black family in Prospect Park

Pratt plans to kick off their fundraiser on Nov. 18, Minnesota’s Give to the Max Day.
Image by Parker Johnson
Participants in an after school program congregate around a fire at Luxton Park on Tuesday, Oct. 27th, 2020. The program was created to raise money for additional teachers and increase social time for students who’s education has gone completely virtual.

In 1909, after the Jacksons, the first Black family in Prospect Park, moved in, a mob of angry white neighbors showed up at the house, trying to scare them out of the neighborhood.

When that did not work, the neighborhood group held meetings and continued showing up at the house to drive them out, according to a 1989 interview with one of the Jackson daughters, Marvel. One person told the father, Madison, “You’re not wanted here. You cannot participate in the community. You will be isolated. Your children will not have anybody to play with.”

Madison bought swings, dollhouses and seesaws and set them up in their yard, creating a playground. According to Marvel, soon children from across the neighborhood began showing up to play with the Jackson sisters.

Then, in 2020, Pratt Community School began the process of renovating their playground. The Prospect Park Association (PPA) and Pratt Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) decided to combine forces and dedicate the upcoming playground to the Jacksons.

Preparing for the new playground

Fundraising for the playground will kick off on Give to the Max Day on Nov. 18, PTO President Ashley Zapata said. Give to the Max is an annual non-profit fundraising day held in Minnesota.

The PTO and PPA are hoping to raise around $300,000 for rebuilding the playground. They have already raised over $20,000 to pay 4rmula, an architecture firm, to design the playground.

Zapata said she hopes to have the designs by Nov. 18 so the playground project can officially debut. They will then launch their website and social media page and begin officially fundraising.

Along with the playground, the school and PPA have other plans to highlight the Jackson family history. They want to give the family’s old house a historical designation as well as create community spaces where people can learn about the Jacksons.

The PPA and PTO are currently working on changing the name of the playground to honor the Jackson family and put up a plaque at their house. The name changes will most likely go into effect next spring. If all goes to plan, Pratt should have the new playground by fall 2022, Zapata said.

Jackson Family

The Jacksons were made up of parents Madison and Amy and, in birth order, Marvel, Helen and Zelma. Madison decided to move his family to Minneapolis to make sure his daughters received a good education, according to Sharon Peters, Helen’s daughter.

“My grandfather put his house [in Prospect Park] because he wanted his children to be able to be educated,” Peters said. “He wanted to live close to the University because Black students couldn’t live on campus.”

The three Jackson girls attended Pratt Community School and were the first Black students to do so. After graduating high school, they attended the University of Minnesota. Marvel said she was one of five Black women attending the University in the 1920s, in the 1989 interview with Washington Press Club Foundation.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Helen moved to New Jersey and began working for the YWCA. Helen had a lifelong career working for the YWCA, eventually becoming its first Black president and advocating for anti-racism.

“I am grateful forever for the kind of family that I have,” Peters said. “I am going to work for social justice with every fiber of my being, just as my mother did.”

Author’s note: Check out MNopedia, Jim Crow of the North documentary or the 1989 interview with Marvel Jackson to learn more about the Jackson family’s history.

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