Historic plaques can be a wonderful way to educate the public about the remarkable history of our neighborhoods, and the incredible people, events, and movements connected to sites all around us.
Historic plaques benefit local communities, as well as tourists and visitors, by sparking further interest in local history. Dedication ceremonies, which celebrate the installation of the markers, also focus attention on historic preservation efforts. Plaques provide documented histories which are made easily accessible to the public, and they represent the importance a community places in its heritage. A plaque also serves as an obvious reminder that a site is historically significant.
For African American History month, we’re taking a look at a number of historic plaques we’ve placed throughout the neighborhood, for you to explore virtually, and hopefully in person next time you’re in the vicinity.
27 Cooper Square
In the 1960s, this 1845 former rooming house became a laboratory for artistic, literary and political currents, including growing activism among African-American artists. Writers LeRoi and Hettie Jones, their Yugen magazine and Totem Press, musician Archie Shepp, and painter Elizabeth Murray all had homes here. The vacant building was transformed into a vital hub of cultural life, attracting leading figures including those from the Beats and the world of jazz. It was also the childhood home of a second generation of East Village artists and thinkers. See video of the dedication and photos of the dedication.
Jean-Michel Basquiat Residence and Studio
Located at 57 Great Jones Street, this plaque commemorates the site of the home and studio of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Basquiat forged an innovative and inspiring language that melded his urban American experience with his Afro-Caribbean heritage. It is located in the NoHo Historic District Extension. Read more here; photos from the dedication are here, and video of the dedication ceremony is here.
The first African American woman to write a play performed on Broadway, Lorraine Vivian Hansberry bought her Greenwich Village home at 112 Waverly Place in 1960. Already a Villager at the time, Hansberry was a staple of the progressive, creative scene in the neighborhood. Best known for her play A Raisin in the Sun about living under racial segregation in Chicago, she was a New School graduate, a political organizer, a furtive participant in the LGBT rights struggle, and a social justice advocate. Her political engagement drew the attention and surveillance of the FBI. Although she died young, her creative spirit and activism continued to spur her fellow Villagers and artistic peers forward; Hansberry was the inspiration for Nina Simone’s song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” Photos of the plaque dedication are here, and video of unveiling is here.
James Baldwin Residence
Located on 81 Horatio Street, this plaque marks the residence of influential American writer James Baldwin (1924-1987). It is located in the Greenwich Village Historic District. Read more here. Dedication photos are here, and the dedication video is here.
Alex Haley Home & Studio
Alex Haley (1921-1992) lived and maintained a writing studio in Greenwich Village. Beginning in 1963 he conducted fifty in-depth interviews with Malcolm X here for his first book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Published shortly after his assassination in 1965, that book transformed the public’s view of Malcolm X, and is widely considered one of the top works of late 20th century non-fiction. His next project was the 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family, which has been published in over 30 languages and for which Haley received the Pulitzer Prize in 1977. Haley began writing in the Coast Guard, where he served for 20 years. Photos of the plaque dedication ceremony are here, and video is here.
Explore our map to see the locations and information for all the historic plaques installed to date.
Be on the lookout for future announcements regarding our historic plaque program throughout Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo.
And feel free to suggest a site of importance in Greenwich Village, the East Village, or NoHo that you think we should consider.