MANHATTAN—Genevieve “Jenny” Eason, a community activist who fought for education and health rights in West Harlem before her death in 2003 at the age of 86, was honored late last month with a street co-naming at 139th Street and Riverside Drive.
“She believed that everyone should have a good quality of life and a good education or at least an opportunity for a good education,” said Judith Thames Potter, 54, Eason’s granddaughter and an office coordinator at Columbia University Medical Center in sports medicine.
Thames Potter added that her grandmother was “well educated, strong minded, an activist for her community and for people in general.”and that she spent more than 30 years working tirelessly in the community of West Harlem and River View Towers, the co-op at Riverside Drive and West 139th Street where she lived.
Eason’s main concerns were the health and safety of senior citizens, education and jobs for the youth, according to her family.
Her work included protesting the location of a large, controversial water treatment sewage plant along the Hudson River— the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is located beneath Riverbank State Park— that New York City built in West Harlem in 1972. It was designed to prevent sewage from dumping into the Hudson River, but the odors and air pollution from the plant made West Harlem residents ill as rates of respiratory diseases increased, sparking lawsuits and protests including by the activist group WeAct.
Eason also worked with Community Board 9 to bring a M11 bus stop to the corner of Riverside Drive and 139th Street, and petitioned to have polling sites be the central and accessible point for River View Tower residents and people in the community, according to her family.
“Ms. Eason was very active and she made sure that things were done in the community, things were done in the building,” said Gwendolyn Black, River View Towers resident.
Eason was one of the first shareholders to move into River View Towers in 1965. She eventually became board president and an active member of the committee of concern. She was also very practical, outspoken, and cared a lot about her community, according to her family.
She was politically active, worked in government, served on community boards, and engaged in community affairs alongside former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, according to Abreu.
“She didn’t give up,” said Emme Kemp, a longtime River View Towers resident and one of Eason’s close friends.
Eason was a leader, a fighter, an advocate, and pointed members and residents of the community in the right direction on important issues. She also gave time to her neighborhood that she loved, especially River View Towers, said Mercedes Nesfield, a member of the election committee in River View Towers.
Eason’s daughter said the street co-naming is a dream come true.
“For her to be recognized 20 years after her passing is an honor and it is inspiring,” said Judi Eason, “I am absolutely elated. I walk by and start feeling giddy inside. It’s something she so deserved. And for years, I would fantasize about it. But when I see this sign up here now, oh honestly … I’ll be looking for excuses to walk by it.”