The New School and Village Preservation honor Greenwich Village’s history of social justice with Village Voices
In the window of the New School’s 70 Fifth Avenue building is a 20-foot-tall installation honoring the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), WEB Du Bois, early 20th-century activism for civil rights and social justice . Ida B Wells, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and others. part of Village Voices 2022 The outdoor public exhibition, presented by Village Preservation, connects 23 shadow boxes and another interactive installation on display in Greenwich Village, East Village and NoHo, celebrating people, places and moments from the neighborhood’s artistic, social, political and cultural movements.
“We are excited to be participating in Village Preservation’s Village Voices 2022 exhibit and host an installation at our 70 Fifth Avenue building,” said Tokumbo Shobowale, the New School’s executive vice president of business and operations. “This installation – which recognizes the legacy of social justice and human rights of organizations and individuals who strive for equality in the 20’s. We are honored to be a part of this incredible exhibition that celebrates the artistic, social, political and cultural movements that have sprung up in Greenwich Village – our home for the last 100 years.”
While 70 Fifth Avenue now houses the Parsons School of Design and the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, it was historically known as the Educational Building. The building has served as the headquarters of the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and numerous other progressive human and civil rights organizations. The window installation, designed by Penny Hardy, founding director of design agency PS New York, features images of the NAACP’s “A Man Was Lynched Yesterday” flag, flown in front of the building during the organization’s anti-lynching campaign; Cover photos from the magazine of the NAACP, The crisis; and images by WEB DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston.
“Seventy Fifth Avenue is a building of almost unrivaled historical importance, serving not only as the headquarters of the NAACP and The crisis magazine in its early years, but an unprecedented diversity of human rights, civil rights, progress, labor, peace and women’s organizations in the early 20th century,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation. “From here, the Harlem Renaissance flourished on the pages of The crisis and The NAACP faced the plague of lynching, federal labor segregation, widespread discrimination sanctioned by law, the American invasion of Haiti, and hatred and slander The Birth of a Nation. The ACLU and the Women’s Peace Party started here, and the Armenian Genocide was publicized and declared.”
In 2021, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted unanimously to designate 70 Fifth Avenue as a landmark for its architectural, historical, and cultural importance. Last spring, the New School, along with Village Preservation, unveiled a plaque with comments from several social justice and architectural scholars and historians, relating the building’s history to significant developments in New York City and the United States during the 20th century.
“For me, 70 Fifth Avenue embodies what I try to teach my students: that there is not just an architecture of buildings in the city, but an architecture of the city. We need to consider the education building not only as a listed building in the city and as a fragment of the city itself as a built artifact. It’s just an L-shaped puzzle piece in a larger puzzle, which is New York City,” said Brian McGrath, professor of urban design at Parsons Schools of Constructed Environments, during the plaque’s unveiling event. “Like many early office buildings, this was a workhorse of the burgeoning office city, where many small businesses and nonprofits rented small suites in a building that could accommodate the growth of any organization. This was the architectural hive that cultivated organizations like the NAACP. I can only imagine the encounters in the corridors, elevators and lobby of 70 Fifth Avenue.”
The exhibition, curated by Village Preservation Trustee Leslie Mason and Development Director Lannyl Stephens, will be on view through October 30, 2022. “Our Village ancestors were courageous leaders and changemakers in civil rights and cultural movements,” said Leslie Mason, a member of Village Preservation’s Board of Trustees and a lifelong Villager, in a news release. “Advocacy in all its forms is in the bones of our fellowship. With this exhibition, we celebrate the brave innovators, amplify their voices and hope to carry their examples further.”