Most people who pass the Dr. David G. Morris Park on Broadway don’t even know it’s there – let alone know anything about the person to whom the park was dedicated when it opened more than three decades ago.
In late September, Councilman Gary La Pelusa made an effort to change that by holding what he hoped would be the first in an annual tradition of 3rd Ward parties using the park as a backdrop.
“A lot of people don’t know about the park or who Dr. Morris was,” La Pelusa said. A former used car lot, the park opened for the first time in 1980, one year after Morris retired, to celebrate his 52 years of service.
Although Morris began his medical practice in Bayonne in 1926, he was honored not only for his long years of service, but for his number of accomplishments – especially as a member and president of the Bayonne chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
After his retirement, Morris was honored by the University of Vermont, from which he graduated as the “Outstanding Physician of the Year” for 1982.
Social and medical causes
Born in Florida, Morris attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania before finishing his medical studies at the University of Vermont. He interned in St. Louis, Mo., and then moved to Bayonne in 1926.
During the 1930s, Dr. Morris began teaching health classes to residents and helped establish the Bayonne Youth Center.
Over the years, Dr. Morris has been credited with working to desegregate Bayonne theaters, restaurants, and other places of business, and was instrumental in helping members of the African American community complete their education and to find jobs. He sometimes even gave his own money to help others.
During the early days of the Bayonne Boys Club, Dr. Morris often paid the rent on the building to help keep it open.
For many years, Dr. Morris also served as the president of the medical staff at Bayonne Hospital, and was highly regarded by local churches of every faith. He was also a member of local, county, and state medical societies.
La Pelusa said the park was key to remembering Dr. Morris and to creating a cultural hub around which the 3rd Ward might build.
Paid for by the Gary La Pelusa Civic Association, the celebration on Sept. 20 featured music and food.
“I didn’t want to burden the city for having to pay for this,” La Pelusa said during his presentation before the crowds of people who showed up.
Although La Pelusa credited his association and the efforts of city officials, such as Events Coordinator Ginger Kemp, Mayor Terrence Malloy gave full credit to La Pelusa. “He made this happen,” Malloy said.
Calling it “a small jewel,” La Pelusa said the city will likely work to spruce up the slightly dilapidated park with the hopes of doing more extensive upgrades to it in the future, possibly even using Urban Enterprise Zone funds to pay the cost.
“This is the only park on Broadway,” he said. “And it is in the UEZ.”