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The Insider's Connection

Social Justice

Influential Voice in Music & Culture: Marian Anderson

Who are the most influential voices in music and culture? Whose stories have shaped New York City legacies? How did Marian Anderson make history with resilience and a great singing voice? Marian Anderson was born in 1897 in Philadelphia. Her mother worked in childcare and her father sold coal and ice – both were devout…

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April 16, 2021

Maritcha Lyons: Racial Equality Activism and Shaping the NYC Public School System

How did one woman’s lifelong fight for racial equality shape the New York City school system? How might growing up around activism inspire a young person to create change? How many people have heard the name Maritcha Remond Lyons? Maritcha Lyons was Albro and Mary Lyons‘ third child, born into a free black community in Lower Manhattan on May 23, 1848. Maritcha’s parents ran a sailors’ clothing store to cover their work as conductors on the Underground Railroad; the fight for freedom and racial justice underscored Maritcha’s entire childhood. Maritcha was ill a lot as a child, but she was always eager to get an education. Maritcha attended Manhattan’s Colored School #3. In the summer of 1863, 5 days of racial violence ensued. The Draft Riots, ultimately targeting free black New Yorkers, made the Lyons’ home on Vandewater Street one…

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January 13, 2020

The fate of the James Marion Sims Monument

How does a shifting social consciousness change a city’s landscape? Who is involved in deciding which stories a city tells? What constitutes a vital moment in a rapidly-changing city’s history? Over the course of 84 years, millions of people walking on the East Side of Cental Park nears 103rd Street expect to encounter a bronze monument. The statue was first erected in 1894 in Bryant Park, and then relocated to Central Park in 1934 to stand across the street from the New York Academy of Medicine, which became its permanent home. Standing on a massive granite pedestal reading “his brilliant achievement carried the same of American surgery throughout the entire world,” this statue told a fragmented history. The figure, James Marion Sims, widely referred to as the “Father of Modern Gynecology,” contributed innovative new techniques to a field that was…

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October 15, 2019

Uncover the Story: NYC’s Fight for LGBTQIA+ Rights

New York’s history is abundant with public demonstration. Particularly in the past 100 years, empowered New Yorkers and their allies have organized in public parks, outside government buildings, across bridges and tunnels and boroughs, in support of issues from Women’s Suffrage in 1920 to Environmental Sustainability in 2019. Public assembly is a pervasive response to injustice and tragedy: a key strategy that innumerable activists have employed to fight what they believe in and change the course of history. But information about these ambitious motivated New Yorkers and the things they cared about is often hidden in narratives of a larger historical moment. Whose job is it to remember the stories of the protests/public actions that shaped the city we live in today? New York City’s LBGTQIA+ community is the most visible in the month of June and if you’re in Lower…

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June 17, 2019

Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”: The First Great Protest Song of the Civil Rights Movement

What happens when protest is propelled forward by music? How do people in power silence artists who have the courage to speak against injustice? What is the cost of resistance through art?  Billie Holiday, the legendary jazz singer, challenges the injustice of lynching with her iconic rendition of the song “Strange Fruit,” the first great Civil Rights Movement protest song, but she paid a high price. Billie Holiday had a tough childhood. At 9 years old she started working as an errand-runner in a Baltimore brothel and was sexually assaulted. At the age of 10, she was sent to The House of the Good Shepherd, a Catholic reform school for “troubled” African-American girls. When she was released from The House of the Good Shepherd at age 10, Holiday moved with her mother Sadie, the only consistent support system in her…

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February 25, 2019

The Great New York Conspiracy of 1741: Slave Rebellion

Why are historians still debating an event that happened in 1741? What do rumors, trials, conspiracies, and fears reveal about a shifting public consciousness amongst 18th century New Yorkers? Why is The Conspiracy of 1741 particularly resonant in 2019?  Enslaved African-Americans in New York City first rebelled for their freedom in 1712, setting fires to buildings and killing 9 whites before the rebellion was violently crushed. The whites in New York City feared a second rebellion and placed severe restrictions on the enslaved population. On March 18, 1741 an enslaved man named Quaco set fire to Fort George. The Fort was a political and military center of the northeast, and the damage was significant. Over the course of the next 3 weeks–at the end of a particularly cold winter– 10 fires were to other buildings in Manhattan leading to outbreak…

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February 18, 2019

Enslaved Woman Hiding in Plain Sight: A Story of Daring Escape

What did it take to escape from slavery? How was it possible? No matter how many accounts we gather about the creativity, courage, collaboration involved in escape, we know some pieces of the puzzle will always be missing. When we encounter these stories, we must remember that there are many more that we’ll never know. Ellen and Williams Craft were enslaved in separate households in Georgia. They got married, and shared the trauma of being separated from their families at a young age. Ellen and William did not have children while enslaved, fearing that they’d be taken away. William was allowed to keep a small fraction of the wages he earned as a cabinetmaker in a shop where his owner collected the rest of the money. He and Ellen planned to leave around Christmas, coming up with an elaborate plan….

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February 11, 2019

African American Heritage: The Businessman Who Set People Free

 How do the stories of buildings and people reveal secrets of the city’s history? How did New Yorkers get involved in the Underground Railroad? How is it possible that significant secrets to the history of New York hid for so long in plain sight? When you stand at the corner of Broad and Wall Street, you’re overwhelmed with iconic buildings: Federal Hall on the north side, the New York Stock Exchange across the street, Trinity Church on the west side of Broadway. It’s a vibrant intersection, rich with history. You could spend the day considering who has stood right where you’re standing. Where were they going? What were they talking about? What crises and triumphs might they have been facing? Visitors seldom stand on that corner and consider Downing’s Oyster House, a swanky restaurant that catered to New York’s elite between…

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February 4, 2019

The Forgotten Liberator

What does it take for one person to oppose an international system as insidious and devastating as racism? On Martin Luther King Day, we consider the courage, risk, and profound effort involved in the fight for equality. Martin Luther King challenged the system. He suffered devastating losses and celebrated remarkable victories, changing the course of American history during the Civil Rights Era. 120 years earlier in New York City, David Ruggles did the same thing. New York abolished slavery in 1827, and a free black community slowly began to form in Manhattan. Enslaved people fled the south seeking freedom in New York, but it wasn’t that simple. Fugitive slaves and black New Yorkers could lose their freedom at any moment; southern enslavers flooded New York City, seeking fugitives and free blacks to sell into slavery. The threat of kidnapping and…

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January 18, 2019

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