Tom Finkelpearl, the city’s cultural affairs commissioner, said that the agency approached Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation and a chair of the monuments commission, with the idea of a new, privately funded monument. Mr. Walker and his organization sought funding from the other three organizations.
The Lyons family is an “amazing part of New York City and is the kind of history that tends to get left out of our public monuments,” Mr. Finkelpearl said.
Maritcha Lyons, who was born in 1848, worked in Brooklyn schools for nearly 50 years as a teacher and then as an assistant principal. She viewed herself as providing “education of the masses rather than of the classes,” according to the Black Gotham Archive, a project by Carla L. Peterson, an academic who wrote a book on investigating her own family history. Dr. Peterson is a great-grand-niece of Maritcha Lyons.
Maritcha Lyons was also one of the founders of the Woman’s Loyal Union, which became known for its work with Ida B. Wells in anti-lynching activism as well as for being a springboard to the National Association of Colored Women. According to a 2018 paper by Val Marie Johnson in the Journal of Urban History, some of Lyons’s lesser known causes were fighting for school integration in Brooklyn schools and actively resisting a separate Y.W.C.A. branch for black women in principled opposition to racial segregation in the early 20th century.
Her father, Albro Lyons, ran what was called a Colored Sailors Home, which also served as the family residence and a refuge for escaped slaves. The house was a target of mob attacks during the 1863 draft riots, during which rioters stormed it three times, destroying the interior and setting a fire in one of the upper rooms, Dr. Peterson wrote on Black Gotham Archive.
“The rioters’ goals in attacking Albro’s home were multiple but precise,” she wrote. “They sought to strike at the heart of the black family; destroy black property and wealth, which they saw as ill gotten and undeserved; undermine black enterprises; prevent black sailors from seeking ‘white’ work on the docks; and finally eliminate a black community institution dedicated to the abolitionist cause.”
The city said there would be an open call this week for artists interested in designing the monument.