December 1, 1996 in Nation/World

Symbols Of Liberty Tied To Racial Injustice

New York Times
 

Anthony Washington said he surged with “pride and dignity” when he was appointed a National Park Service ranger at the Statue of Liberty.

And William Pauling said he felt he was part of the country for the first time when he began working as a mechanic at the statue and nearby at Ellis Island.

Now, a lawsuit brought by the men, who are black, to fight their dismissal by the Park Service portrays the two national symbols of freedom and opportunity as a nest of racial prejudice.

As one example of racial bias, witnesses recalled in pretrial depositions the hanging of a black doll in a noose in the rangers’ main office on Ellis Island in 1992 - an act that Washington, then the only black ranger in his unit, said he believed was an effort to intimidate him.

Other witnesses testified that white maintenance supervisors had secretly imposed a ban on the hiring of black employees.

And a ranger who investigated complaints of prejudice testified that she was transferred to another job in 1993 after she wrote a memorandum to other rangers warning that minority and female employees were being mistreated and that black rangers were being isolated from visitors at the statue and on Ellis Island.

The suit, in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, was brought by Washington, 32, and Pauling, 50, who were dismissed in 1993 and are seeking reinstatement with back pay.

A third plaintiff, Michelle Gillyard, 30, is still employed as a supply clerk at the Federal Hall National Memorial, a museum at Wall and Nassau Streets in lower Manhattan. She is seeking a promotion and back pay.

A spokeswoman for the Park Service, Edie SheanHammond, said that Justice Department lawyers had instructed the agency not to comment on the suit. But current and former statue administrators maintained in depositions that Pauling and Washington had been dismissed and Gillyard had been denied a promotion because of poor work records, not racial bias.

In court briefs, Jennifer K. Brown, an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan and the lead government lawyer in the case, denied all the accusations and said that the plaintiffs had failed to “exhaust administrative remedies” before going to court.

After working 15 years as a boiler systems mechanic, Pauling landed a $30,000-a-year job with the Park Service in June 1990. He was attached to the buildings and utilities crew.

“It meant a lot to me to be working at the statue, ” he said in an interview. “I felt part of the country and so proud that I’d do anything they asked of me.”


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