City Council Members Launch Public Website & Legislation for a New NYC Historic and Cultural Markers Program

City Council Members Launch Public Website & Legislation for a New NYC Historic and Cultural Markers Program

Building on the work of the Mayor’s “Monuments Commission,” Council Members Lander, Cumbo, and Van Bramer push to establish a new NYC Historic & Cultural Markers Program, to commemorate a more inclusive set of histories, communities, struggles and sites that shape our city. The Council Members are launching and introducing legislation to authorize the program.
January 12, 2018
Whit Hu (CM Lander),, 718-499-1090 (District)
City Hall, NY

City Hall, NY -- On the heels of Mayor de Blasio’s Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers announcement of its recommendations, Council Members Brad Lander, Laurie Cumbo and Jimmy Van Bramer are pushing to establish a new Historic and Cultural Marker program in NYC, to commemorate a more inclusive set of the histories, communities, struggles and sites that shape our city.

The report of the Mayoral Commission (co-chaired by NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker) includes the principle that New York City should “be proactive in adding representation of overlooked histories to its collection and its storytelling. The City must create initiatives—in and out of public space—for ongoing, participatory education, inclusive of our collective narratives.” The report calls for a proactive and inclusive approach to expanding the City’s collection of monuments and markers.

The Council Members, who wrote a letter to the Commission urging such an approach, commend the Commission for recommending a more just and equitable representation in public space. Toward that end, we are launching and introducing legislation to establish the creation of a new Historic and Cultural Marker Program that builds on the Commission’s recommendations.

The new website describes the proposed program and offers opportunities for people and organizations around the City to get involved. states “in recent months, attention across the country and here in NYC has been focused on the removal of statues and markers that glamorize racism -- an important conversation. But it is also imperative for NYC to add to what we commemorate: to proactively & publicly recognize a far more inclusive set of histories, communities and cultures, so that all our histories are on the map.” includes a few initial examples of the types of sites, histories, individuals, events, cultures, struggles and communities a new Historic and Cultural Marker program could acknowledge, including:

  • the Draft Riots of 1863 when white laborers in NYC rioted in protest to the draft for the Union army and 11 African-Americans were lynched.

  • the first birth control clinic in the country, opened in Brownsville by Margaret Sanger in 1916.

  • a Disability Rights Sit-In at the WPA in 1935 which resulted in 1,500 jobs created for people with disabilities under FDR’s New Deal Program.

The site also invites New Yorkers to suggest new ideas for sites and individuals to commemorate through the new program.

“We need to make sure that all our histories are on the map,” said Council Member Brad Lander., the Council's Deputy Leader for Policy. “Right now, our city lacks the tools to publicly tell the full story of our collective history. This moment is a critical opportunity: not only to make sure we don’t glamorize racism, but that we commemorate the full range of histories, communities, cultures, and struggles that have built New York City. We’ve all got a lot to share, and a lot to learn.”

“In the broadest terms, we are who we are because of the stories and values passed on to us. But what is so glaring is that we have developed a history of adaptations. Our experiences can help weave a lifelong narrative, but what we must address is the foundational roots of our history of oppression, slavery, abuse, and maltreatment. We as a people must continue to push for the full story, both for ourselves but more importantly for future generations. We need artistic and cultural markers to give clarity, so that we can honor the true history of our people. We need new storytellers to become part of the story. Only then can we become sensitive to the deepest dimensions of how we are woven together as a people. New York represents a melting pot of languages, cultures, and faiths. It is our unique identity that has enabled us to evolve into a progressive and inclusive city. We will continue to uphold the tenets outlined as a city for all people and to specifically support the individuals that have traditionally been overlooked,” said Majority Leader and Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo.

“Recognizing and celebrating our history is more important than ever,” says Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, Chair of the Committee of Cultural Affairs and Libraries. “New Yorkers should know who lived and worked here, who fought for justice here, and we should all do what we can to make sure all voices are heard.”

In their letter sent to Darren Walker and Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl in October, the Council Members noted that New York City’s landmark designation and historic district programs are limited to buildings that are over 30 years old with distinctive aesthetic character. While these programs are incredibly valuable, many sites, figures and places that have played a critical role in shaping NYC’s history do not meet the specific criteria of a landmark or require the rigorous protections that the landmark designation provides.

Unfortunately, NYC today lacks a program for this type of recognition. New York State’s historic marker program was discontinued in 1966, leaving localities responsible for approving, installing and maintaining historic markers -- but New York City did not pick up this responsibility. On several rare occasions, the City has acted: after a long campaign and City Council legislation, the Parks Department placed a plaque to mark the spot of the site on Wall Street where the City operated a slave market for over 50 years. But no  broader program has been established.  

This new program, as proposed in the Council Members’ recently introduced bill, would fill that gap, requiring the City to develop, implement and oversee a program to:   

  • Recognize community leaders, activists, and events that have advanced civil and human rights;

  • Tell untold and forgotten stories of New Yorkers, especially those who were marginalized or oppressed (and therefore lack historic structures that tell their stories);

  • Reinforce our city’s values of inclusion, civil rights, and community empowerment, while also being honest about many times in our history when  NYC has not been characterized by those values.

  • Commemorate important people, places and events significant to New York City’s history and identity through historic and cultural markers;

  • Provide interpretive, interactive and online materials to educate NYC residents and visitors about a diverse range of cultural and historic sites; and

  • Provide a searchable online database on an official website of the city accessible to the public that shall include a list of all historic and cultural markers.

The website provides a small glimpse of what a NYC Historic and Cultural Marker Program might look like and provides opportunities to suggest ideas and provide feedback. The full program would need to be developed through a partnership of City agencies (NYC Department of Records and Information Services, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, NYC Department of Transportation, NYC Department of Parks, etc), the City Council, our robust community of museums and cultural institutions, and representatives of the diverse communities that make up New York City's remarkable history.


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