Harlem historians are petitioning for a new name for New York City’s main prison that was named after a family connected to slavery.
Rikers Island was named after descendants of an early Dutch settler, Abraham Rycken, who owned the island. One of his descendants, Richard Riker, has been written about by historians as a member of the Kidnapping Club, a term coined by abolitionists. According to historian Eric Foner, Riker was an influential member of the club.
“In accordance with the Fugitive Slave Act, members of the club would bring a black person before Riker, who would quickly issue a certificate of removal before the accused had a chance to bring witnesses to testify that he was actually free,” wrote Foner in “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad.”
Morris explained that Riker was the patriarch of the family. He asserted much control over the city as the chief magistrate of NYC. He was in charge of all the courts from 1815 to 1838 and an active participant in the bounty hunting business.
“It was despicable and perverted. Black children were kidnapped,” said Morris.
Morris began the petition five weeks ago to bring awareness to the historical ties to slavery in NYC. In addition to the petition, Morris wanted to rename streets in recognition of the Underground Railroad in New York.
His ultimate goal is to bring this resolution to city council. The number of signatures, now at 13, is not important to him, Morris explains. What matters to him is the awareness and contempt of NYC’s slavery ties.
“I call Rikers ‘Injustice Island,'” declared Morris.
Morris’ petition is here.