In 1998, the Ralph Ellison Memorial Committee was established to plan a memorial celebrating Ralph Ellison’s legacy in the neighborhood he loved. The Riverside Drive island at 150th Street was chosen as the site for the memorial. Ralph Ellison’s last and long-standing home at 730 Riverside Drive faces the site, and Ellison often strolled in this section of the Park. In 1998, the committee along with Riverside Park Fund sponsored a design competition for the project. The panel’s vote was unanimous in favor of the design submitted by Elizabeth Catlett. The Ralph Ellison Memorial Project is her first commissioned public work in New York City. The Invisible Man sculpture is a 15 foot high, 7 ½ foot wide, six inch thick slab of bronze featuring a cutout silhouette of a man. His struggle, Catlett suggests, is universal, genderless, and timeless. The artwork is the centerpiece of a restored area of Riverside Park, surrounded by a dramatic setting of dogwoods and azaleas from 149th to 153rd Street.
Catlett began work on the sculpture in the summer of 2001 and the sculpture was unveiled on May 1, 2003. Ralph Ellison’s widow, Fanny Ellison, who still lived at 730 Riverside Drive attended the ceremony, along with artist Elizabeth Catlett, Bill and Camille Cosby, actress Ruby Dee, Reverend Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church and many local politicians and residents of the Harlem community. Benches in memory of Ms. Catlett’s husband, Mexican artist Francisco Mora, and in tribute to former City Council member Stanley Michels, who allocated the majority of City funding for the memorial, were also unveiled that day.
Riverside Park Fund Grassroots Volunteers work to keep the area surrounding the monument clean and attractive.