The past five years have seen a historic surge in anti-racist activism, including the removal of racist symbols from urban spaces across the country. As Confederate monuments were removed and major streets decorated in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the city of Newark has had its own reckoning with space and representation.
In 2018, a monument to immigrants was erected in Peter Francisco Park, which essentially serves as the gateway to Ferry Street, one of the most visited parts of the entire city. A year later, the city honored Ken Gibson, the first African-American mayor of a major city in the Northeast, with a sculpture in Lincoln Park. This past year, two statues of Christopher Columbus were removed from public parks. All of these were worthwhile and overdue changes to public space that reflect the city’s progressive politics and social realities. In the broadest terms, Newark is a city of post-1965 immigrants and Black people (some are both), so its public spaces should certainly celebrate that basic fact.
After the initial euphoria of the unveilings, both of Newark’s new statues quickly became eyesores. The Ironbound’s monument has been fenced off for most of its existence and until very recently, one of the featured immigrants was cut in half. As for the Gibson sculpture, with stunning speed, the head began to collapse. This section of Lincoln Park is now blighted by chain link fence covered by tarp.
As the city of Newark is in the process of renaming Washington Park after Harriet Tubman and replacing the Christopher Columbus monument with one in her honor, we have one request. Please get this right.
The Board of Editors
Featured image by Shawn Collins