Hey, Roosevelt Island! Let’s do the right thing. Let’s honor the great African American writer, actress, director Alice Childress, and while other icons come down, let’s raise hers up.
By David Stone
It started with the most routine of New York activities, last winter. Two actors from Roosevelt Island, Michael Rogers and Mark Blum, made their way to the subway.
Shop talk ambled along into mutual acquaintances until it arrived at Alice Childress, the African American superstar of literature. Both were more than fans, and in fact, she’d been Rogers’s mentor.
Rogers recalls riding a Queens bus across the Roosevelt Island Bridge to meet her. Before any Tram glided across the East River, Alice Childress was one of the first residents calling Westview home.
And that conversation led to an agreement.
Roosevelt Island, which has long neglected its African American pioneers and legends, should honor Childress.
Rogers and Blum hatched an idea, but then, Rogers said, “Two weeks later, Mark was dead.”
COVID-19 felled Mark Blum on March 25th.
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But, ever modest about her gifts, Alice Childress saw it in her own way.
“I just hate to see the ‘first’ Negro, the ‘first’ black, the ‘first’ one,” she said. “It’s almost like it’s an honor rather than a disgrace. We should be the 50th and the 1,000th by this point.”
Rogers and Blum’s idea flashed into a larger frame when protests over police abuse rocked the nation after George Floyd’s public execution.
“They’re tearing down all these statues of white supremacists,” Rogers said. “Shouldn’t we also be putting things up?”
To honor Alice Childress, the commuting actors agreed, the new Roosevelt Island branch of the New York Public Library ought to be named for her.
Alice Childress Branch of the New York Public Library, Main Street, Roosevelt Island, New York
It’s fitting in profound ways.
Once honored by local admirers after her death, a memorial in her honor was nearly lost. PS/IS 217 staff, driven mad by a lust for free parking, filled the space with muddy tire tracks before a groundskeeper rescued it.
Then, RIOC’s public liaisons, Erica Spencer-EL and Jessica Murray, with full support of president Susan Rosenthal, gave her memorial a new home near the Meditation Steps.
But that’s not nearly enough.
For a giant, you need to think big, as big as Alice Childress was.
We’ve got a new library close to opening — which takes us full circle because Childress helped its earliest version get started on the ground floor in Westview.
Alice Childress’s last home, until 1994, was upstairs.
It’s Juneteenth, 2020, and we have a chance to give her lasting memory the honor of an Alice Childress Branch of the New York Public Library, right on the street she last walked, on Roosevelt Island.
Does she have your support?
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[…] role in rescuing this Roosevelt Island Memorial plaque honoring Alice Childress. Childress was an African American literary giant, and Rosenthal went on to produce one of her plays at the Howe […]
[…] move is on for naming the new branch after Roosevelt Island pioneer Alice Childress. Childress, a literary giant, took part in the library’s earliest […]
[…] Let’s Honor Alice Childress […]
[…] Daily, inspired by enthusiastic support from locals and theatre enthusiasts, gathered up the full story along with endorsements and asked City Council Member Julie Menin for help. We needed someone that […]