FIT Connections to Civil Rights History Honored Throughout Fall 2023

In 2023, two monumental events in U.S. civil rights history had significant anniversaries—the New York City Draft Riots in 1863 and the 1963 March on Washington. FIT has largely unknown connections to both; throughout fall 2023, the college hosted commemorative events.

During the draft riots, a violent, racist uprising against the Civil War military draft that convulsed New York, an African American man named Abraham Franklin was dragged from his home on Seventh Avenue and 27th Street, now the corner of FIT’s campus, and lynched.

A century later, the March on Washington was planned, in part, across the street from FIT on Eighth Avenue, in the Penn South apartments of activists Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph. Labor leader David Dubinsky and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, for which he was president, contributed half the funds for the sound system through which Dr. King gave his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech; today, FIT has a building named for Dubinsky.

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As part of the events, Illustration MFA students from the class of 2025 drew images of Dubinsky.

“It has generally been forgotten that the March on Washington was organized, funded, and attended in large numbers by labor leaders and the labor movement,” says Social Science Professor Daniel Levinson Wilk, one of three directors of the semester-long commemorative project. 

Throughout the fall, the college hosted talks, film screenings, an exhibit, a voter registration drive, a meal, and a walk to an unveiling of the Triangle Fire Memorial, which marks a significant event in fashion industry labor history.

Textile/Surface Design student Keidy Restituyo created this scarf, inspired by the March on Washington and incorporating colors from the Pan-African flag, for a class project related to the FIT events.

A documentary double feature about Rustin (Bayard and Me and Brother Outsider), who taught nonviolent resistance to Martin Luther King, Jr., and organized the March on Washington, screened on campus. The life and career of Rustin, who was openly gay, has been reexamined recently. He is the subject of a well-received biopic currently on Netflix, for example. A Q&A with Walter Naegle, Rustin’s life partner, followed the FIT screening. 

Other activities included a group dinner and conversation organized by FIT’s Black Student Union. The Museum at FIT hosted a conversation about the significance of fashion and self-presentation for Black Civil Rights leaders from the 19th century to the present. The college also hosted panel discussions about the appropriate form of commemorations for Franklin’s murder, and other atrocities.

1863-1963-2023 Project Directors: Taur Orange, director of FIT’s Office of Educational Opportunity Programs; Amy Werbel, professor, Art History and Museum Professions; and Wilk.

Project Advisory Board: Nanja Andriananjason, Isabella Bertolleti, Kira Cunningham, Lucia DeRespinis, Ramona Dunlap, Rukaiah El, James Ferguson, Kailee Finn, Mackenzie Harding, Viviana Harris, Yasemin Jones, Alexander Joseph, Yoko Katagiri, Patrick Knisley, Amy Lemmon, Yasemin Levine, Margaret Murphy, Nicole Finigan Ndzibah, Molly Schoen, Dan Shefelman, Austin Thomas, Elizabeth Way, Amy Zaborowski-Smith

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