Settlers first came to New York City in the early 1600s, nearly 400 years ago. As you can imagine there have been many important figures that have helped make NYC what it is today. In honor of Black History Month, we have compiled a few landmark monuments commemorating historic African American figures.
The monuments, statues, and memorials we’ve listed below are available to view free of charge.
1. Duke Ellington Statue
Location: Central Park (110th Street & Fifth Ave.)
History: Edward “Duke” Ellington achieved much of his fame in the New York City jazz scene of the 1920s, playing in popular nightclubs such as the Hollywood Club on West 49th Street and Broadway.
As the bandleader at The Cotton Club, his role in the Harlem Renaissance was instrumental in bringing Jazz music to the masses. Moving up north from the rural south, he went on to travel Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. During a time of high racial segregation, Duke found a way to appeal to a wide audience thereby emblazoning himself into the heart of American pop-culture.
2. Frederick Douglass Memorial
Location: Central Park North and Frederick Douglass Boulevard
History: Abolitionist writer, speaker, and activist, Frederick Douglass escaped slavery in 1838 and came to New York. Born Frederick Bailey, he changed his name to Douglass upon his journey north. As a leader in the abolitionist movement, he sought to end slavery during and after the civil war. Douglass also advocated women’s rights and championed women’s right to vote.
3. Harriet Tubman Memorial
Location: St. Nicholas Ave and West 122nd Street
History: Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in 1822. In 1849, at the age of 27, she escaped and made her way up north using a system of underground tunnels and passages that became known as the Underground Railroad.
As a self-emancipated free woman, she went back to her home in Maryland a total of 19 times to help family, friends, and neighbors escape as well. She was a master of disguise with the ability to avoid slave hunters and make her way through forests without detection.
Upon arrival in New York City, Harriet brought her passengers to the Anti-Slavery Offices (there was one located at 143 Nassau Street) where she would help them seek asylum by boarding a train or boat up to Canada.
4. Malcolm X Memorial
Location: Audobon Ballroom
History: Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha Nebraska and was the son of a preacher who advocated the teachings of Marcus Garvy. In 1931 his father was murdered by white supremacists and seven years later he was taken away from his family by welfare caseworkers.
He had dropped out of school by this time and at the age of 21 was sent to prison for burglary. While there he found the teachings of Elijah Muhammed and the Nation of Islam. During this time he also changed his name from Little to X. He saw this name change as a way to take back his stolen African identity.
After being released from prison he became an ordained minister and saw the Muslim faith as a way to solve racism. X had a more radical approach to racial freedom than some of his contemporaries and advocated self-defense and liberation by “any means necessary”.
His teachings became controversial among other black groups when he started claiming that racism rather than white people were responsible for the nation’s condition. He was assassinated in 1965 while giving a speech at the Audobon Ballroom in New York City by a rival Black Muslim group.
5. Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
Location: 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard
History: Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was the first African American person elected to represent New York in Congress. At the time, there were only four other African American people before him in the country with this stature.
He was a congressman for the Democratic party for three decades and a frequent spokesperson for civil rights. He was elected chairman of the Education and Labor Committee in 1961, the most powerful position held by an African American in Congress up to that date.