A mural at A.L. Davis playground depicting civil rights figures.

Hey Blake,

I heard Dr. John on WWOZ singing about a place called Shakespeare Park. Where is that in New Orleans?

Dear reader,

You must have been listening to Dr. John's version of "Marie Laveau," originally written and recorded by Oscar "Papa" Celestin in 1954. A lyric mentions Shakspeare Park, which should be spelled that way because it was named after Joseph Shakspeare, mayor of New Orleans from 1880 to 1882 and again from 1888 to 1892. The park at Washington Avenue and LaSalle Street, originally created in 1859, was dedicated in his honor in 1900.

During the civil rights era, the park was an important community gathering place. In September 1963, an estimated 10,000 people, including future Mayor Ernest Morial, the Rev. A.L. Davis, civil rights attorney Lolis Elie, the Rev. Avery Alexander and civil rights activist Oretha Castle Haley, gathered at the park for the start of a march which ended at City Hall. The park also was the site of a large anti-Vietnam War rally in November 1969 and was the starting point of the Zulu parade for many years until 1977.

In 1979, the park was renamed for the Rev. Abraham Lincoln Davis Jr., better known as A.L. Davis. A leader in the local civil rights movement, he was pastor of New Zion Baptist Church on Third Street, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) was founded. Davis, who was pastor of New Zion for more than 40 years, was the SCLC's founding vice president. He became the first African-American to serve on the New Orleans City Council when he was appointed to the District B seat in 1975. Davis served until May 1978 and died the following month.

A.L. Davis Park, a New Orleans Recreation Development Commission facility featuring a swimming pool, athletic fields and basketball and tennis courts, is also a gathering spot for Mardi Gras Indians, who can be spotted there on Uptown Super Sunday each spring.