Maritcha R. Lyons Park

MARITCHA R. LYONS PARK

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

What was here before?

The Board of Estimate (a now defunct municipal body) first acquired this property in 1944 as part of the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE). Built under the direction of Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Chairman Robert Moses (1888-1981) between 1946 and 1964, the BQE was intended to relieve congestion on local streets and aid industry and commerce by shortening transportation time between the boroughs. Its construction caused widespread displacement of local residents and businesses.

How did this site become a park?

Demolition and construction staging to build the BQE resulted in several remnant properties in public jurisdiction in proximity to the new expressway. One year after construction of the BQE began, Parks assumed jurisdiction over this property, which remained nameless until 1998 when it was named Bridge Park 1 in reference to the nearby Manhattan Bridge. The planted seating area was completed around the time the BQE opened. 

Who is this park named for?

In 2020, as part of an NYC Parks initiative to expand the representation of African Americans honored in parks, the park was renamed for Maritcha R. Lyons (1848-1929), an American educator, civic leader, suffragist, and public speaker in New York City. She was born in lower Manhattan in the area once known as the Five Points. Her parents, Albro Sr. and Mary Joseph, operated a seaman’s home for Black sailors that also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, where slaves seeking freedom were sheltered in safety.

During the New York City Draft Riots of 1863, her home was attacked, and the family fled to Massachusetts before settling in Providence, Rhode Island. While there, Lyons attempted to enroll in high school but was denied due to her race. Her family successfully sued the state to integrate the school, and she became the first African American graduate of Providence High School.

Lyons returned to New York after graduating and accepted a teaching position in Brooklyn’s Colored School No. 1 in nearby Fort Greene. She taught in Brooklyn public schools for 48 years and was the second Black woman to serve the Brooklyn school system as an assistant principal.

Throughout her life, Lyons fought for women’s right to vote and was a member of the Colored Women’s Equal Suffrage League of Brooklyn. She died in 1929 in Brooklyn, leaving a legacy of advancing women’s rights and racial justice.

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