September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document
Title:Al Sharpton leads protest against racism at Gramercy Park
Publication:New York Beacon
Blurb:The Gramercy Park Trust faces a lawsuit by Black and Latino students at Washington Irving High School, their parents, some teachers, and Mr. O. Aldon James, president of the National Arts Club. Gramercy Park is the only privately-owned park in New York. James, a member of the park, invited the students to the park for a field trip, but they were chased out because of their race. Sharpton and other prominent allies are protesting every day at lunch.
Body:Rev. Al Sharpton and the New York Chapter of the National Action Network (NAN) last Friday led a protest in front of the only privately owned park in New York City, Gramercy Park, located at 21st Street between Park Avenue South and Third Avenue in Manhattan.
Joined by Police Lieutenant Eric Adams, founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, activist and talk show host Grampa Al Lewis and Annette Dickerson, who is with the Center for Constitutional Rights, the demonstrators showed their support for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought against members of the Gramercy Park Board of Trustees. The plaintiffs, some of whom were also present, are a number of Black and Latino students at Washington Irving High School, their parents, some teachers at that school, as well as Mr. O. Aldon James, president of the National Arts Club.
The suit demands changes in the Gramercy Park Trust which dates back to 183130 years before the beginning of the Civil War. The lawsuit also charges civil rights violations of the Black and Latino ninth graders from Washington Irving High School who were invited and escorted to the park by Mr. James, a key-holding member of Gramercy Park, for the purpose of studying the relationships of nature, science and art.
This was not the first time Mr. James, who is white, had brought a group of students to Gramercy Park for a field trip. The thing is, when the students were primarily white, they met with no objection from the parks board of trustees. But when the students were predominately Black and Latino, it was a whole different story. The lawsuit alleges that while they were in the park, Sharen Benenson, chair of the Gramercy Park Trust, came over to the students and told them, We dont want your kind here. One of the teachers answered that this was a learning trip for the students. Benenson replied, They dont look like a learning group to me.
Addressing the protestors, Rev. Sharpton stated, In an area of the city that claims to have some of the literary giants, some of the cultural icons of Americato have children of color told that they dont appear to be the studious type and chased from a park is nothing but racial profiling in its most blatant form.
He told the crowd that NAN will be there on a weekly basis while people eat their lunches in the park. Were going to be your lunchtime company, he said. And referring to the popular 1967 movie about racism starring Sidney Poitier, he said, Guess whos coming to dinner? Continuing very seriously he said, If our children cant come into the park, then we will come to the sidewalks around the park until they can.
Sharpton spoke too of the importance of backing up Mr. James and making sure hes treated in a fair and equitable manner. To target the National Arts Club for doing what all New Yorkers should be doingparticipating in the education of young peopleis something we cannot sit back in silence and allow to happen, he said. We cannot let them scapegoat Alston James for standing up for our children. Our children must not be made to think that they are so despicable in these peoples sight that those who dare stand with them will be treated as though something is wrong with them rather than lauded and applauded.
Woody Henderson, head of the New York Chapter of NAN, made some important points as well about the fact that it was an educational trip to the park that has roused Benensons ire. Everybody complains about the educational system, he stated. But when someone steps out of their way, as Mr. James has, to try to help educate our youth and then others object, apparently education isnt the objectors real goal. Perhaps there are certain segments of this society that have a vested interest in children of color not being educated on an equal level.
He spoke too about the fact that Armed Services recruiters are now going into high schools like Washington Irving and encouraging the students to sign up. If we end up going to war in Iraq, theyre certainly not going to say, We dont want Blacks and Latinos, he said.
Lieutenant Eric Adams made reference to yet another place that some people would rather see youth of color headed. Gesturing toward the high wrought-iron fences that surround the park, he said, Were here because we believe our children should be allowed within the fences of a park, not within the confinements of a jail.
Mr. James addressed the protesters as well. After thanking Rev. Sharpton and everyone else for their support, he said that the National Arts Club had simply used its right as a property owner to bring an official class trip into the park. And he spoke of how devastating the experience had been to the children. It was a searing experience for the plaintiffs, he said. What happened here should never happen again. I think the only way to make sense of this nightmare is to make sure that it doesnt happen again. The case is documented and the facts are before the Federal Court.
For more information about upcoming demonstrations, call Woody Henderson at the National Action Network at (212) 987-5020.