Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that East River State Park on the Williamsburg waterfront has been named after Johnson, marking the first time a state park has been named for an LGBTQ person or transgender woman of color.
“Too often, the marginalized voices that have pushed progress forward in New York and across the country go unrecognized,” Cuomo said, “making up just a fraction of our public memorials and monuments.”
Born in 1945 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Johnson moved to Greenwich Village at 17 years old. Seven years later, she was among the prominent leaders of the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, a pivotal moment in the LGBTQ rights movement.
A year later, Johnson co-founded the organization Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) along with fellow transgender activist Sylvia Rivera. She also organized with the Gay Liberation Front and ACT UP, and established a shelter to support LGBTQ young people rejected by their families.
Johnson died in 1992 at the age of 46. An investigation into her death, reopened in 2012, is still unsolved.
“Marsha P. Johnson was one of the early leaders of the LGBTQ movement, and is only now getting the acknowledgement she deserves,” Cuomo added. “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 state Parks Department is installing the first phase of the public art, which includes decorative perimeter fences honoring Johnson at both the North 8th Street main gate on Kent Avenue and the corner of North 7th Street and Kent Avenue.
Parks will also place signage outlining Johnson’s life and contributions to the LGBTQ rights movement, as well as promoting treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS. Two long parallel gantry foundation walls, creating a natural outdoor gallery, will also feature artwork celebrating her life.
“Marsha P. Johnson was a pioneer for the LGBTQ community and her story must never be forgotten,” said Assemblyman Joseph Lentol. “Renaming the East River State Park in her name will honor her legacy and tell her story for generations to come.”
State officials also announced that additional improvements are coming to the park by next summer.
A new park house and education center, including classroom space overlooking the park, public bathrooms, park ranger contact station and a small maintenance storage area, will be built. The 1,200-square-foot facility was funded through allocations from Lentol and Councilman Stephen Levin.
Upgrades will be made to the deteriorating concrete pads that host Smorgasburg and other community events. The Parks Department will add furniture that reflects the site’s industrial and commercial heritage, rehabilitate the gantry walls and improve stormwater management systems.
Finally, the existing storage building will be adorned with decorative exterior wall treatments to coordinate with the fence screening.
“To have one of our local parks named after someone as influential and important to the history of our city and the fight for equality everywhere is an honor,” Levin said. “The new name and planned improvements to the park will show our commitment to providing world-class public spaces for everyone.”
The seven-acre waterfront park offers iconic views of the Manhattan skyline, sandy beach, native meadow, dog run, playground and facilities for picnicking. The park was once the site of a 19th and 20th century shipping facility.
“Part of our mission at State Parks is the preservation of our state’s historic legacies,” said Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid, “and making our parks welcoming to all visitors.”