Historic, but not famous

John Brown Russwurm, abolitionist, publisher

John Brown Russwurm (1799–1851) was an abolitionist, newspaper publisher, and colonizer of Liberia where he moved from the United States.  He moved from Maine to New York City, where he was a founder with Samuel Cornish of the abolitionist newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, the first paper owned and operated by African Americans.

Mr. Russwurm was born in Jamaica to an English Merchant and an enslaved woman. He was sent to Quebec when he was young for his education. He reunited with his father in 1812 and moved to Maine with his father and stepmother. The stepmother kept him with the family after the death of his father in 1815.

He graduated from school in Maine and began to teach at an African school in Boston. His stepmother and her new husband helped him pay for his college education at  Bowdoin College from 1824 – 1826. He became the first African American to graduate from Bowdoin College and third African American to graduate from an American college.

He moved to NYC in 1827 and published the first edition of Freedom’s Journal that March. His position on Africans moving back to Africa was controversial and he quit the paper in 1829 to lead colonization by African Americans in Liberia. In 1836 he became the first black governor of Maryland in Africa, a colony that later became part of Liberia in 1857. He held this post until his death in 1851.

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Historic, but not famous

Reverend Howard Moody, Advocate for many

The Rev. Howard R. Moody (1921 – 2012)  the longtime minister of the historic Judson Memorial Church, hurled himself and his Greenwich Village congregation into roiling social issues. He began preaching at the age of 5 on a milk crate in TX and continued his ministry until his retirement from Judson Church in Greenwich Village in 1992.

He moved to NYC in 1957 as a senior pastor at Judson Church. He assisted all types of people with their needs. He helped women get safe abortions before they were legal. He worked with prostitutes, giving them advice, council and cookies. He established one of the first drug treatment centers in the Village. When AIDS hit NYC, he was the first minister to offer assistance and comfort. He set up an AIDS support group and led one memorial service after another for its victims. He fought censorship and became a leader of a local Independent political club.

He made his church the home of one of New York’s first Off Off Broadway theaters and an innovative dance company. A gallery he established there showed artists like Claes Oldenberg and Robert Rauschenberg before they were well known. Beatniks, and later hippies, were welcomed. In the 1960s he let Yoko Ono and others stage “happenings.” One event, called “Meat Joy,” featured bikini-clad performers and a dead fish.

Rev. Moody was an essential part of the Greenwich Village culture until his death of complications from cancer in 2012. His work lives on at Judson Church.

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Historic, but not famous

Liz Christy, community garden builder

Liz Christy was a founder of the urban community garden group, Green Guerillas. She was the first Director of the Council on the Environment, in New York City’s Open Space Greening Program and LCBH garden was the first winner of the American Forestry Association’s ‘Urban Forestry Award.’ In 1973, Liz Christy and a group of gardening activists were planting window boxes, vacant lots with ‘seed bombs’ and tree pits in the area. They saw the large rubble-strewn lot as a potential garden and in December went to the City to find a way to gain official use of the land. Volunteers hauled the garbage and rubble out, spread donated topsoil, installed a fence and began planting. In 1974 they received permission to use the space for $1 a month. The first year, sixty raised beds were planted with vegetables, and then trees and herbaceous borders were added.

The garden she founded and that is named for her is on Houston Street and Bowery (the NorthEast corner). The first community garden in the five boroughs of New York, it is one of the earliest community gardens in the northeastern United States and where you can find the tallest Dawn Redwood tree in NYC as well as hundreds of plants native to North America. This garden sparked a neighborhood garden movement throughout all the boroughs of NYC and the green guerrillas held workshops on how to start a community garden.

Liz Christy Garden is open to the public on Saturday from noon until 4PM, all year, on Sundays from noon until 4 PM, May to October, and Tuesday & Thursday evenings from 6 p.m. till dusk from May until October.

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Historic, but not famous

Felix Adler, founder NY Society for Ethical Culture

Felix Adler (1851 – 1933) was a professor of political and social ethics, rationalist, influential lecturer on euthanasia, religious leader and social reformer who founded the Ethical Culture movement. Born in Germany, his family immigrated to the United States when he was 6 years old. He studied at Columbia University and continued his education at Heidelberg University in Germany. There he was strongly influenced by neo-Kantianism, especially the notions that one cannot prove or disprove the existence of a deity or immortality, and that morality can be established independently of theology.

After realizing being a rabbi was not for him, he entered academia, teaching at Cornell University. In 1876

By David Shankbone (attribution required) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2163846

, he gave a lecture on doing away with theology and to unite theists, atheists, agnostics and deists, all in the same religious cause. He began a Sunday lecture series and in February 1877, aided by the president of Temple Emanu-El, Adler incorporated the Society of Ethical Culture. Adler talked about “deed, not creed”; his belief was that good works were the basis of ethical culture.

The group expanded to sending nurses to help the poor, free kindergarten, clothing and food for the children of the working poor. Adler served as rector for the Ethical Culture School until his death in 1933. He also helped establish the National Child Labor Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union, was president of the Eastern Board of the American Philosophical Association and he served on the first Executive Board of the National Urban League. In government, he was involved in housing reform and foreign policy.

Throughout his life, he always looked beyond the immediate concerns of family, labor, and race to the long-term challenge of reconstructing institutions, such as schools and government, to promote greater justice in human relations. The school based on his philosophy can still be found on Central Park West in Manhattan. Ethical Culture Fieldston School’ (ECFS), known as just Fieldston, is a private independent school and a member of the Ivy Preparatory School League. The school serves approximately 1700 students with 325 faculty and staff.

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