This summer cities across the country have been reckoning with the meaning of their public statues. While most of the news has surrounded battles over taking down monuments, this week the town of Elizabeth announced the decision to erect a new one. The New Jersey city will soon dedicate a monument to LGBTQ activist Marsha P. Johnson.
Marsha P. Johnson was a Black transgender women born in Elizabeth in 1945. She lived in the city until she graduated high school. Johnson is best known for her role in the 1969 Stonewall riot, which many consider the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. Johnson also was involved in sex worker and homeless activism. In 1970, she helped found Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a mutual aid organization which kept unhoused LGBTQ youth and sex workers off the street.
The decision to erect a statue in Johnson’s hometown came following an online petition which called for the city’s Christopher Columbus statue to be replaced with one honoring Marsha. The Columbus statue will not be removed. Instead, the monument to Johnson will be placed on the Freedom Trail near Elizabeth City Hall. Johnson’s family members said that they chose this location because of its proximity to city hall and a school, which they hope will allow more children to learn about Johnson’s legacy.
Elizabeth’s Marsha P. Johnson statue will likely be the first public monument in the state to honor an LGBTQ person and a transgender woman of color. The city plans to hold a series of events throughout LGBTQ History Month in October to engage the community in creating the monument.