New York, NY – Today, the de Blasio Administration announced plans for a new monument in Central Park honoring the Lyons family, an African American family who participated in some of the most seminal movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Consisting of Albro Lyons (1814-1896), Mary Lyons (1815-1894), and their daughter Maritcha Lyons (1848-1929), these remarkable people led their community in the fight to make the City more, fair and just, especially as the nation struggled to overcome centuries of slavery before and after the Civil War. The monument, funded by the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, represents another step toward fostering a more diverse and inclusive public art collection for the City. Along with the planned Women’s Suffrage monument, it will be the first commemorative sculpture placed within Central Park's borders since the 1950s. The proposed location for the monument is the Park entrance at 106th street and Central Park West.
"The Lyons family story began more than a hundred years ago in a thriving black community that was razed to build Central Park. Today, we finally recognize their contribution to New York and American history with a monument," said Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Vicki Been. "We are so proud to share their story of overcoming tremendous hardship and prejudice to make our City a more equal and just place for all New Yorkers."
“Following the work of the Monuments Commission, we set out to enhance NYC’s public spaces with permanent artwork and monuments that more fully reflect New York City and the vast diversity and complexity of the people who have made it the extraordinary place it is,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl. “Honoring the Lyons family for their truly remarkable role in our city’s history is another major step toward fostering a more dynamic monuments collection. We’re excited to work with local partners toward creating a new monument honoring this inspiring group of people, providing an opportunity for public education, examination of under-appreciated historical figures, and enrichment of our civic space and collective memory.”
“The Lyons family were true icons of change that advocated for a just society in early New York City. It is fitting that we commemorate their storied legacy of pursuing equality for African-Americans with the second monument to be placed in Central Park in over 50 years. This statue will share the contributions of the Lyons family with generations to come,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP.
The Lyons family members who will be honored in this monument are Albro Lyons (1814-1896), Mary Lyons (1815-1894), and their daughter Maritcha Lyons (1848-1929). Over two generations, they participated in and led a number of key events and movements in New York history. They were property owners in Seneca Village, New York’s first free black community, which was later condemned and cleared to build Central Park. They ran an Underground Railroad station; their business was sacked and burned during the racist Draft Riots in 1863. Maritcha co-founded the Woman’s Loyal Union of New York and Brooklyn in 1892, among the first women’s rights and racial justice groups in America. The family’s story resonates with the Central Park site and touches on so much about black life in New York City after the abolition of slavery here in 1827.
The Lyons family monument is being funded by $1.15 million from private foundations.
“The creation of the Lyons family monument in New York City moves us closer to a reality where the diversity and history of the city is accurately reflected to the millions who call it home each day,” said Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation. “This representation matters and the Lyons’ family story is an extraordinary example of a powerful black family who had their share of courageous triumphs, but also in the wake of the abolition of slavery endured hardships, violence, and racism. We honor them with this historical monument and hope the truth it tells will educate and inspire future generations to come.”
“We cannot erase many decades of underrepresentation in public art, but we can actualize on a promise to the people of New York City that their public spaces will continue to be more inclusive, and that they will see themselves reflected in the historical figures we honor in public works,” said Toya Williford, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. “Bringing dedicated philanthropic leaders together with our City partners ensures that remarkable New Yorkers like the Lyons family and so many others are memorialized, changing the landscape of this city for decades to come.”
“What – and who – we memorialize publicly is a choice, and a statement about our values and the histories we, as a society, want to preserve,” said Elizabeth Alexander, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. “The Central Park monument to the remarkable Lyons family—early property owners in Seneca Village, the state’s first free black community; business owners who operated an Underground Railroad stop; educators; and advocates for the rights of women—will quite literally alter the representational landscape in the heart of New York City, ensuring that a broader and truer range of the multiplicity of American stories are told. This is not just a statue that captures the past – it’s a symbol for the future that speaks to who we are as a city and a nation.”
“The Lyons family fought for equity and was committed to addressing social issues,” said Laurie M. Tisch, President of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. “Recognizing their impact, particularly in a place so significant to the City’s civic life, is an important way both to honor the past and create a cultural asset for all New Yorkers.”
“The JPB Foundation is excited and proud that the City and Central Park are recognizing the vast contributions of African Americans, and paying tribute to the essential part they have played in the city’s development and history. The JPB Foundation is pleased that the story of the Lyons Family will have a permanent home, where thousands will be able to visit and learn,” said The JPB Foundation.
In its 2018 report to the City, the Mayoral Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers stated “that in order for the City to ensure that public spaces are inclusive for all New Yorkers, it should proactively invest in the addition of new public works.” Subsequent research conducted by the Public Design Commission further explored the City’s collection and the City consulted with expert historians, which served as a starting point for considerations of honoring the Lyons family.
As the City’s premier public space visited by millions every year, Central Park is a particularly important venue for presenting public monuments. While the artists and artworks installed in and near the park in recent decades have been more diverse, the overall collection of works remains skewed toward white, male figures and artists. This monument will make progress on these City goals to present a fuller depiction of City history, and keep New York City on the forefront of addressing the historical imbalance in representation in public art.
To commission this monument, the City consulted with historians at the Museum of the City of New York and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
“The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is thrilled that the Lyons family is being honored in this way. The Lyons family is significant for their endeavors to not only make good lives for themselves, but also for their dedication to ensuring the freedom and education of those that they helped shuttle to freedom via the Underground Railroad. We often traverse towns and cities unaware of their full histories, let alone the battles that took place. The Schomburg Center is honored to hold the family's archives in our collection and believe this monument is a positive step towards sustaining public and scholarly interest in slavery and abolition in New York, the Lyons family, Seneca Village, and other early Black communities in the city,” said Michelle D. Commander, Ph.D., Associate Director and Curator of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Lapidus Center.
“The Museum of the City if New York was honored to nominate the Lyons family as the subject for this important monument, helping to recognize the previously overlooked stories of those who made meaningful and long-lasting contributions to the City’s history,” said Sarah Henry, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Museum of the City of New York. “The Lyons family’s story highlights the ongoing struggle for equal rights across generations. It is gratifying to see their legacy honored in Central Park, a place so connected with their history and that of African-American New Yorkers.”
“It is always a good day when we can recognize and lift up the great people and families who’ve helped shape our city. The creation of this monument paying homage to the Lyons family embraces the impact of a culture that has for so long been ignored. Maritcha Remond Lyons was a community activist, public speaker, and educator at Brooklyn’s Colored School No. 1 – the first African Free School located in our very own Fort Greene. I look forward to more monuments celebrating the significant achievements of our nation’s ancestors,” said Majority Leader Laurie A. Cumbo, New York City Council District 35.
Working with NYC Parks, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, and the Central Park Conservancy, the City proposes a location for the monument near the 106th Street entrance on the park’s west side. Given Central Park’s prominent place in New York City life and history and its existing collection of monuments, it also reflects the family’s broader role in events, movements, and institutions that influenced the entire city. The proposed site, which is near the recognized site of the historic Seneca Village where the Lyons owned property, also represents one of the locations along the park’s perimeter where its original designers intended for monumental artworks to be placed, as places that mark the transition from the city into the park.
Artist selection will be conducted through the City’s Percent for Art process, which integrates City agencies, public art experts, and community representatives into a panel review process to select artists to design permanent public artwork. Learn more at www.nyc.gov/percent. An open call for artists interested in designing this new monument can be found on Percent for Art’s Submittable page.