Behind Trump Place, Three Civil Rights Heroes Are Honored on Freedom Place
Freedom Place, which runs from 66th to 70th Streets just west of West End Avenue, commemorates Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney, who on June 21, 1964 were murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where they had been helping African-Americans register to vote as part of the Freedom Summer project. Chaney was a black man from Mississippi and Schwerner and Goodman were Jews from New York City. The three young civil rights activists had been traveling together when they were abducted by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
These three men were killed just one week after the start of Freedom Summer, but even from beyond the grave these men continued to advance the cause they had fought for in life. In fact, their deaths galvanized the public and helped the Voting Rights Act of 1965 get passed. In recognition of the lives of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney, Freedom Place (the street was carved out of the Lincoln Center Urban Renewal Area) was named in their honor in 1967.
In 1985, Donald Trump began drafting plans for Television City (later renamed Trump City), a 16-building complex (one of these was intended to be the tallest building in the world) that would stretch from Freedom Place to the Hudson River. Afters years of negotiations, the final version of the project, authorized in 1992, was much more modest than either Television City or Trump City had been. In addition a new park along the water, the community was promised a monument in commemoration of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney on Freedom Place to replace the existing plaque.
The monument was supposed to go in the semicircular plaza at 68th Street and Freedom Place. However, nearly thirty years have passed since the modest plaza was constructed, and there is still no monument. Members of the Manhattan Community Board 7 (along with then-State Assemblyman Scott Stringer) held Donald Trump responsible for the absence of the monument and are still trying to get it built. In 2002, Stringer wrote in a newsletter, “‘It is unconscionable that Trump has, thus far, neglected to complete construction of this memorial,” but the Riverside South Planning Commission contended that the memorial was not legally required by zoning and plans had never been formally adopted.
Meanwhile, all six buildings that once contained the name “Trump Place” along Riverside Drive have voted to remove the reference to the President’s name and taken down the large gold signs on the buildings (though the Trump Organization still manages the buildings).
Although the monument was never built, the street is, itself, a memorial to the brave young men who lost their lives trying to give a voice to those who had for too long been silenced. Freedom Place is an unassuming little street, but like the three it is named for, its message speaks volumes.