Brooklyn’s East River State Park is being renamed Marsha P. Johnson State Park, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in an August 24 announcement that coincided with the late LGBTQ icon’s 75th birthday.
Facilities at the park will undergo renovation and public art dedicated to Johnson and her legacy will be featured, the governor said. The state’s parks department already incorporated the first wave of art at locations on the perimeter fence at the park’s North Eighth Street main gate on Kent Avenue and on the corner of North 7th Street and Kent Avenue.
Renderings of the park released by officials show an elaborate display paying homage to Johnson, though the final plan is subject to some tweaks during the development process. The state’s parks department will work with the city’s local LGBTQ community to finalize the design and art. At this point, the renderings show a large Rainbow Flag and Trans Flag painted on the ground surface adjacent to an image of Johnson.
Further details are expected to be provided to Gay City News in the near future.
Among other upgrades, the park will revamp the park’s concrete, improve seating, and bolster stormwater management systems. By the summer of 2021, there will be a new education center at the park featuring classroom space with views of the park. City Councilmember Stephen Levin and State Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, both of Brooklyn, provided funding grants for that facility.
As the late Stonewall historian David Carter wrote in a Gay City News piece last year, Johnson is widely viewed as among the first people to fight back against the police on the first night of the Stonewall Uprising in June of 1969. One witness, Bob Heide, said he saw Johnson that evening “just in the middle of the whole thing, screaming and yelling and throwing rocks and — almost like Molly Pitcher in the Revolution,” Carter wrote.
Johnson also carried out work in the community following Stonewall. She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which for a brief period following the Stonewall Uprising maintained a queer youth shelter, and was a member of ACT UP in the years before she was found dead in the Hudson River six days after the 1992 Pride March. The circumstances surrounding her death have remained in question — while it was ruled a suicide, her friends wondered if there was foul play and there were rumors that a man claimed to have killed “a drag queen named Marsha.”
“Too often, the marginalized voices that have pushed progress forward in New York and across the country go unrecognized, making up just a fraction of our public memorials and monuments,” Cuomo said in a written statement. “Marsha P. Johnson was one of the early leaders of the LGBTQ movement, and is only now getting the acknowledgement she deserves. Dedicating this state park for her, and installing public art telling her story, will ensure her memory and her work fighting for equality lives on.”
The park’s dedication to Johnson comes one year after the city announced a monument honoring Johnson and Sylvia Rivera would be erected at Ruth Wittenberg Triangle at 421 Sixth Avenue at Christopher Street and Greenwich Avenue down the street from the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan.
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