Statue fever has come to the Big Apple. This time, however, the focus is not on tearing down or rewriting the past, but on “equal time” or — as New York’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, put it — correcting the “‘glaring’ imbalance in the city’s streets and parks.” McCray, who will be remembered by future generations of New Yorkers for her inability to account for the $850 million her husband, Bill de Blasio, entrusted to her for a mental health project, is quoted by the New York Times as having said:
We pledged to do better by the leaders, achievers and artists who have not gotten their due in the histories written by men.
So who will become future targets for the city’s legions of pigeons? Billie Holiday, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Helen Rodríguez Trías, and Katherine Walker. Except for Holiday, a noted jazz singer, who indeed?
Graham, the Times writers inform us, was something of an early Rosa Parks, who in 1854 boarded a New York streetcar without noticing the sign refusing service to black people. Rodríguez Trías was a pediatrician who worked with sexually abused children and those susceptible to AIDS, and Katherine Walker was a lighthouse keeper (as opposed to a light housekeeper) at the turn of the twentieth century.
As has been noted in connection with Black History Month, when you have to go digging around in “Famous First Facts” for people to honor, you’re pushing the envelope.
But the best is yet to come. Yesterday, McCray was out speechifying again, this time in front of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village that Barack Obama designated a national monument, where she announced that two more women who “lived their truth” would be memorialized in bronze. The two, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, were gay rights activists who made their living — wait for it — as drag queens.
And there you have it. A city with a shortage of statues recognizing women will celebrate the lives of two who were equipped with male plumbing.
No wonder we can’t have nice things.