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Shirley Chisholm, Billie Holiday, and Elizabeth Jennings Graham to be Honored with Statues in New York City

Shirley Chisholm, Billie Holiday, and Elizabeth Jennings Graham to be Honored with Statues in New York City

 Photo: Michael Appleton

With almost 150 public historical statues in New York City, only five are of women - but the She Built NYC initiative is on a mission to change that. 

Under the program, led by NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, three Black women who left an impact on the city will now be honored with their own monument: Shirley Chisholm, Billie Holiday and Elizabeth Jennings Graham. 

"There are big gaps in our City’s public art, with few statues of women, trans, and gender nonconforming people," said McCray. "The message that lack of representation sends is that these people have no value and did not make contributions to our city. This first step we are taking will help us more accurately show the diversity in the people who helped make New York City so great."

Chisholm, who was born in Brooklyn, blazed a trail as the first African American congresswoman and the first woman and African American to run for the nomination of a major political party for President of the United States. Her statue will be erected at Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

Photo: Pictorial Parade/Getty Images 

Holiday was a jazz legend and one of the first Black women to sing with a white orchestra. As stated by She Built NYC, her "career elevated New York’s ‘swing sing’ jazz scene to international prominence while challenging racial barriers." In doing so, Holiday recorded one of the most iconic protest songs, "Strange Fruit." Her statue will be installed near Queens Borough Hall. 

Photo: Getty Images 

Graham was an educator and a civil rights icon who was forced to get out of a streetcar at Third Avenue Railway Company in 1854 because of the color her skin. She later sued and won a lawsuit against the company and went on to pave the way for desegregation of the New York transit system. Graham's' statue will be placed next to Grand Central Station.

Photo: Courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society via Museum of the City of New York 

“We pledge to do better by the leaders, achievers and artists who’ve not gotten their due in the histories written by men,” McCray said. “We cannot tell the story of New York City without recognizing the invaluable contributions of the women who helped build and shape it.”

The other two women that will be honored is pioneering pediatrician Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías and lifesaving lighthouse keeper Katherine Walker. With the monuments’ artists being announced in 2020, construction on the statues are set to start in 2022.