“NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by section 320301 of title 54, United States Code, hereby proclaim the objects identified above that are situated upon lands and interests in lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be the Stonewall National Monument …”
—from the Presidential Proclamation — Establishment of the Stonewall National Monument, June 24, 2016
On August 25th 1916 the United States National Park Service was established. To celebrate today’s 100th-anniversary milestone, Walk About New York is spotlighting the country’s newest National Monument, New York City’s Stonewall Inn. This designation elevates Stonewall to its rightful place in the Nation’s civil rights history; it is on a par with the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls and the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights.
Meant to acknowledge the importance of the Stonewall Uprising, which spanned the nights of June 28th through July 3rd 1969, the Stonewall National Monument includes the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street; Christopher Park, directly across from the bar; and the neighboring streets, including Christopher Street, Grove Street, Waverly Place, Seventh Avenue South, Greenwich Avenue, and Gay Street, where those history-making riots took place.
The Stonewall Uprising changed American history, and marked the start of the modern gay-rights era. Gay men, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender people in New York and across America began to organize and stand-up for their civil rights. Stonewall has become a rendezvous for gay New Yorkers. When New York State passed marriage equality legislation in June 2011, following the Supreme Courts historic recognition of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in June 2015, and after the tragic shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June 2016 it was to the Stonewall Inn where gay New Yorkers came to gather to celebrate and to grieve.
Shortly after midnight on June 28th 1969 New York City Police conducted a raid at the popular Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. It was against the law to sell alcohol to “homosexuals” in New York at the time. Such police actions in the past had followed a quite and routine pattern. That night was anything but quiet or routine. On this night the transgender and gay men bar patrons did not walk peacefully into the police vans waiting for them. They resisted, and were urged on by a crowd gathering outside, chanting, “Gay Power” and “We want freedom.” The crowd grew, forcing the cops back into the bar, barricading them inside. By 4:30 AM the uprising had subsided; but it resumed each night for the next five in the several streets that now make up the Stonewall National Monument.
The focal point of the Stonewall National Monument is Christopher Park. This triangular-shaped, 0.19-acre park is home to the “Gay Liberation Monument.” Sculpted by George Segal (1924–2000), this bronze monument is coated in white lacquer; it was commissioned in 1979 by the Mildred Andrews Fund to mark the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Although completed in 1980, it was not installed and dedicated until June 23, 1992 because of some older residents’ objections to the same-sex couples showing affection, and the city had not allocated funds for installing and maintaining it.
“He belongs to the first rank of soldiers, not only of our country, but of the world.”
—Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885)
The above quote is chiseled on the brown granite pedestal of the other artwork on view in Christopher Park, that of the Civil War General Philip Sheridan (1831–1888). This sculpture, not as accessible as the “Gay Liberation Monument,” was dedicated on October 19, 1936. This date marked the 72nd anniversary of the Union Army’s victorious Battle of Cedar Creek, a campaign that was led by General Sheridan. Designed by Italian-born sculptor Joseph Pollia, a time capsule, containing the names of all contributors to the sculpture’s cost, was buried beneath its simple granite base.
Walk About New York features the Stonewall National Monument on our Gay Village Walking Tour. Discover this gay-related sight and many others when you are part of it. Take the Tour; Know More!
ALL PHOTOS AND TEXT, EXCEPT NOTED QUOTES, © THE AUTHOR 2016