Margaret Carnegie was born in Lawrenceville, Virginia, on April 27, 1910. She moved to New York in 1920 where she attended the Florence Garnett Training School for Girls, Junior High School 136, and Morris High School in the Bronx. In 1953, Carnegie moved to the recently built Cooper Park Houses. For the next forty years of her life, she became deeply involved in the Greenpoint-Williamsburg community. Carnegie had a special interest in improving the livelihood of seniors. She worked for better housing and safety for the elderly, as well as activities for their mental and physical health. She is credited with bringing ‘Grandparents Day’ (first Sunday after Labor Day) to New York. Grandparents Avenue, located along a section of Kingsland Avenue, earned its name in recognition of her work. Shortly before her death in June of 1993, the playground at Cooper Park was renamed in her honor. The building located at 302-310 Jackson Street, Neighborhood Women Houses, also carries her name, Margaret Carnegie and Mildred Johnson Building.
Carnegie was an outstanding community leader who succeeded in bridging differences between ethnic groups in the Greenpoint–Williamsburg area. Her involvement in several neighborhood organizations throughout her life made this achievement possible. She was part of the National Congress of Neighborhood Women, the Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corporation, the Council for the Aging, the Williamsburg Greenpoint Independent Democrats, and the Devoe Street Baptist Church. She was founder and chaplain of the Cooper Park Senior Citizens Organization and served as president of the Grandparent Organization Inc.
Margaret Carnegie frequented Cooper Park and regularly participated in poetry readings. She believed that through poetry she could encourage her neighborhood to improve their conditions, both as individuals and as a community. In the documentary film Metropolitan Avenue, she appears on her birthday reciting Douglas Malloch’s poem “Be The Best Of Whatever You Are”:
If you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill,
Be a scrub in the valley — but be
The best little scrub by the side of the rill;
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree.
If you can’t be a bush be a bit of the grass,
And some highway happier make;
If you can’t be a muskie then just be a bass —
But the liveliest bass in the lake!
We can’t all be captains, we’ve got to be crew,
There’s something for all of us here,
There’s big work to do, and there’s lesser to do,
And the task you must do is the near.
If you can’t be a highway then just be a trail,
If you can’t be the sun be a star;
It isn’t by size that you win or you fail —
Be the best of whatever you are!
-Be the Best Of Whatever You Are by Douglas Malloch