Harlem historian Jacob Morris is pushing for the city to change the name of Rikers Island, making the case that the prison's namesake family was heavily involved in the slave trade, according to The Forum.
The island was purchased by Dutch settler Abraham Rycken in the 1660s and remained in the family until 1884, when it was sold to the city for $180,000. It has been used as a jail in some form ever since, first as a workhouse, then as a penitentiary starting in 1935.
Morris writes in a petition that Richard Riker—who served as Chief Magistrate of New York from 1815 until 1838—provided the "legal cover" to the city's various bounty hunting rings that kidnapped free blacks in the north and sold them in the South. Riker also issued "Certificates of Removal" to the kidnappers and received graft payments for his assistance.
Therefore, the petition argues, "Riker" should be "removed in all ways from the Penal Institution and Island that currently bears his Name" and that the city should "find a new more generic name that does not have the disgraceful historical symbolic connotations of the despicable activities of Richard Riker."
Recently, Gothamist published a lengthy article listing the many streets and monuments named for New York's slave profiteers.
· Historian Organizing Petition to Change Name of Rikers Island [The Forum]
· PETITION: To Remove the Historically Disgraceful & Despicable Name of "RIKER" From the NYC "Riker's Island" Penal Institution [Change.org]
· All Rikers Island coverage [Curbed]