Freedom Place backstory

Photo courtesy of Richard Barr

After the latest Trump sign is removed on Riverside Boulevard, a focus on a nearby street’s poignant history

By richard barr

There was a lot of coverage last week of the removal of a large gold “Trump Place” sign at 200 Riverside Boulevard, between 69th and 70th Street, according to the wishes of a majority of the resident owners of apartments there. It was the latest of four buildings, stretching along the Boulevard from 66th to 70th Street, to remove their “Trump Place” signs. Donald Trump had those signs put on the buildings when he had part-ownership of them, and in recent years, when he no longer had ownership, his management company has had a contract which included a provision to keep the signs in place. Since he became President, enough residents have wanted those signs removed to take action, despite threatened lawsuits from the Trump organization.

Yet there is a backstory here that has not received attention. The front entrances of the four buildings may face Riverside Boulevard, but their back entrances are on a four-block-long street called Freedom Place. They constitute the entire west side of Freedom Place, and the same “Trump Place” signs had been placed on those sides as well.

Freedom Place was so named in the mid-1960s to memorialize three young men of Trump’s generation, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, who were murdered by Ku Klux Klansmen in Mississippi in June 1964 while they were attempting to get black Mississippians registered to vote.

They were aware of the fact that by doing so they were putting their personal safety at great risk, but their sense of justice was so acute that they decided to proceed with this effort nevertheless. They may have been of the same generation as Trump, but that’s where most similarities ended. James Chaney was a black Mississippian, Mickey Schwerner and Andy Goodman were white New Yorkers. Andy lived on West 86th Street.

His mother Carolyn, until her death in 2007, tried to ensure that the lessons of her son’s life and those of his colleagues were not forgotten. She established the Andrew Goodman Foundation, led trips by bus to historic civil rights locations in the south to educate young people about that history, and had a documentary film created about the period. It was she who played the leading role in getting the city to name the street as a memorial for the three young men, and indeed, a gravestone-style plaque is placed on a lawn at the north end of Freedom Place, directly across the street from the last of the “Trump Place” signs which came down last week.

A sign which says “Trump Place” conveys the impression that that is the name of the street, not just that of the building. These signs were much larger than the Freedom Place street signs, making it likely or at least possible that people entering the street would notice the former and not the latter. I found it galling for years, long before I ever imagined that Trump would one day become President, that in his compulsion to brand everything, he obscured what should be a solemn memorial to values he wouldn’t even understand.

When I reached out to various local elected officials over the years as to whether anything could be done to remove the Trump signs from the Freedom Place sides of the building, I was usually met with a shrug of resignation. Now, thankfully, with the actions of building residents, a just and appropriate outcome has been reached.