First Park Dedicated to Gay Rights Leader Harvey Milk Opens Downtown

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Harvey Milk Foundation Commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez of San Diego speaks at the dedication. Photos by Sarah Bennett

Following this weekend’s Pride festivities, the City of Long Beach officially inaugurated Harvey Milk Park–dedicated to the iconic slain gay rights leader–that officially caps off the north end of the Downtown Promenade.

A year in the making, the eastern part of the park along 3rd is towered by the massive 1936-38 WPA mural–comprised of over 400,000 mosaic tiles–that was created by Albert Henry King, Stanton MacDonald-Wright and Henry Nord. Additionally, fruit trees and placards highlighting local and national LGBTQ history are found throughout the space, as well as a rainbow pride flag which will fly 24/7–something officials believe is a first for a public park.

However, the highlight of the park is the small Equality Square, where a stained concrete box with “SOAP” written on it sits. Mimicking the now-famous soapbox that Milk himself would often use to exercise his freedom of speech, the box is meant to encourage park visitors to exercise their forms of expression in the spirit of Milk.

harveymilkparkcakeThat spirit largely drove the ceremony’s ambiance, bringing many City members, LGBTQ leaders and citizens sporting Milk pins, eating cake and happily toasting to Milk’s 83rd birthday tomorrow, or what is commonly called Harvey Milk Day.

“This is definitely a historic day,” said Vice Mayor Robert Garcia, the person who originally proposed the park and has spearheaded the project. “And not just for Long Beach, but for the entire nation… Harvey Milk was not just a gay rights leader but a civil rights leader and icon. When we think of the civil rights leaders of our time–be it Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, or the great Martin Luther King–Harvey Milk also has a place in civil rights history. And that’s something we’re all celebrating here today.”

Talk was not just limited to the importance of Milk himself, but the many contributions of the LGBTQ community as a whole.

“You should all have reverence for the people [who were courageous] before you,” said Mayor Bob Foster. “You are all enjoying the fruits of their labor, their courage, and the danger they went through–don’t you forget that… Some of the first participants in the [Long Beach] Pride Parade wore bulletproof vests. Think about that; that is totally amazing.”

{loadposition latestlgbt}Stuart Milk, Harvey’s nephew, was unable to attend the ceremony since he is in Washington DC to celebrate his uncle’s birthday with the President tomorrow. However, another Harvey Milk Foundation representative, Commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez of San Diego, was clear that the spirit of Milk is still alive and well–especially in Long Beach.

“I often say, ‘If a community–indeed, any civil rights movement–that does not know where it came from, it doesn’t really know where it’s going,'” said Ramirez. “And today, you in Long Beach are not only honoring a true American icon but trailblazers and true heroic people from your city.”

Harvey Milk Park is located at the corner of 3rd St. and the Promenade. It is now officially open to the public.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.
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